The majority of consumers want brands to take a stance on social issues and orient their business practices accordingly. Here are four who are getting it right.
No news is good news, goes the old saying — and climate change is proof. Skim the headlines and you’ll find that sea levels are rising at a rapidly increasing rate, that July of this year was the hottest month in recorded human history, and that 100-year floods are now happening almost annually. In June of this year, a freak hailstorm covered the Mexican city of Guadalajara in up to five feet of ice. It seems that every time climate change pops up in our news feeds, it spells trouble.
Despite political tensions surrounding the issue, awareness and concern are on the rise. A study done by Ipsos Mori found that 37% of people around the globe are concerned about global warming and climate change — a jump of almost 10% since last year. The recent sweep of climate protests spurred in large part by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets across the planet, urging policymakers to take action.
The point is: climate change matters to increasing numbers of people, and the growing severity, unpredictability, and frequency of extreme weather events makes it obvious that in order to tackle this existential threat in a meaningful way, we have to put our money where our mouths are. The days of sitting idly by are long gone.
Brands and Environmental Responsibility
So why is it important for brands to participate in the conversation surrounding climate change?
First off, brands have the platform to do so. By engaging in the conversation around pressing social issues, brands can garner attention and help to drive and direct efforts to create real, lasting change.
What’s more, consumers want brands to take a stance. One study found that 66% of consumers want brands to be involved in social and political issues. Another found that a whopping 88% of consumers want brands to help them lead more environmentally-friendly and ethical lifestyles. Brands that chime in on social issues often witness tangible benefits, including elevated brand image, improved brand loyalty, and — ultimately — a stronger bottom line.
Here are four brands using their platform and visibility to lead the charge on climate action.
Known for using organic recycled fabrics, this outdoor apparel company has repeatedly taken a radical approach by working to make their supply chain, working conditions, and environmental impact as sustainable as possible.
The company also encourages customers to send in their damaged goods for repairs or to donate through its Worn Wear initiative, which seeks to reduce the carbon, water, and waste footprints associated with product manufacturing.
Perhaps most importantly, Patagonia isn’t afraid of putting mission before profit. In 2011, it took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with the bold headline “DON’T BUY THIS JACKET” — meant to discourage consumers from purchasing new products when they already have perfectly usable ones.
In 2016, the company announced that 100% of its Black Friday sales would go to environmental charities. The company anticipated sales of around $2 million. Instead, Patagonia’s sales topped $10 million, in-store sales grew 76%, and 70% of online purchases were made by first-time customers.
Ranked among the top ten most valuable companies in Europe, Unilever owns over 400 brands, from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to Dove’s personal care and beauty products — and yet is devoted to becoming not just carbon neutral by 2030 but carbon positive. This means that the company will produce more renewable energy than it uses.
It’s already taking huge steps to do so. As of September 2019, the company announced that it is using 100% renewable energy in its facilities on five continents. Other Unilever initiatives include working with farmers to ensure that all agricultural materials are sustainably sourced by 2020, and eliminating single-use plastic packaging in the U.K. by 2025.
With such a huge global powerhouse joining the cause, one hopes that other corporations will follow suit.
The popular Swedish retailer is also dedicating itself to a number of ambitious initiatives that combine style, affordability, and sustainability. The company has invested nearly $2 billion into renewable energy projects, including plans to build more than 400 wind turbines and to outfit their buildings with more than 750,000 solar panels.
IKEA will also remove single-use plastics from its stores and restaurants by 2020, and make its home deliveries emissions-free by 2025. Finally, its This Is IKEA project seeks to educate consumers about the many ways they can live more sustainably.
The confectionery giant, named one of America’s best corporate citizens in 2013, has a long history of corporate social responsibility. In the past decade, it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into turning its production plants into zero-waste-to-landfill facilities that feature energy and water conservation measures.
In early 2019, the company announced it would be establishing a new environmental policy in order to bring its operations into alignment with both the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Fulfilling these promises will include improving the living and working conditions of cocoa farmers in Ghana to keep the area resilient to the effects of climate change.
The company is also committed to a number of other environmental initiatives, including energy efficient buildings and the sustainable sourcing of palm oil.
Where the (Sustainably Sourced) Rubber Meets the Road
It’s not enough for brands to say that they’re invested in a cause but fail to back their claims with meaningful action. Consumers recognize inauthenticity. In the same way that a number of brands have been criticized for launching flashy Pride campaigns while donating millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ+ lobbies and PACs, brands who advocate for climate action but don’t take action to make their own products and operations greener are likely to face the consequences in the marketplace.
On the other hand, when brands take real action to address the issues for which they advocate, they establish a high degree of authenticity, which builds brand trust and loyalty. As a result, consumers continue engaging with the brand, driving the brand’s bottom line.
Hopefully one day this won’t be news, but brands need to ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ in the years and decades to come — to create a better world for us all.