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Sustainability Myth #2: Consumers Can’t Define Sustainability

Many brands and retailers believe consumers do not know what sustainability is, so they look towards outside sources to guide their strategies rather than leveraging their robust customer bases. This can often lead to brands and retailers focusing on issues that are not relatable to their consumers, resulting in lost sales, brand equity, and consumer loyalty. As insight professionals, you have the ability to simplify sustainability for your leaders by tapping into what your core customers know and believe.

From Eastman’s global consumer research, sustainability is all about the materials. 

Over the past few years, Eastman has been asking open-ended questions across various studies to better understand what consumers believe would make certain products more sustainable or environmentally friendly. After coding those thousands of verbatim responses, the research finds that materials is the number one definition of sustainability in the minds of consumers, consistent across product categories, countries, and demographic cohorts. These data points indicate that material selection should be the cornerstone of any brand or retailer’s strategy to position themselves as sustainable leaders. 

When it comes to the type of materials global consumers find sustainable, it’s generally a mix of natural, recycled, renewable, or “sustainable” materials depending on the specific product category. The fact that consumers cannot specifically articulate the type of material they say would make a product more sustainable is actually OK, as it gives brands and retailers more freedom to explore sustainable material solutions that meet their performance and price-point needs.

In fact, brands and retailers who can incorporate sustainable materials into their products and communicate them effectively to consumers (a topic we will address in a few months) have an opportunity to position themselves as sustainable leaders and drive additional brand equity and consumer loyalty. For example, more than 2 in 3 U.S. and European consumers say brands incorporating recycled plastics into their housewares, small appliances, computer & gaming accessories, or sunglasses care more about the environment, care more about product quality, and are more trustworthy than brands not using recycled plastics. In addition, more than 3 in 5 U.S. and European consumers say they would be more loyal to brands offering recycled plastics in these product categories.

Sustainable materials offer established brands and new entrants the opportunity to plant their flag around an important aspect of sustainability that consumers see as creating more environmentally friendly solutions, helping reposition them as sustainable leaders while offering the potential for additional growth and category disruption. 

I would challenge all insight professionals to better understand how your core customers define sustainability in your category and use those insights as the foundation for your company’s sustainability goals and portfolio. 

Now that your company has a solution to rally around, the next challenge is driving customers towards that sustainable solution. Unfortunately, next month’s myth that sustainability has become a top purchase driver for consumers is not yet true. There is more work for insight professionals to connect sustainable materials to the product expectations of their customers. 

Click here for Justin Coates’ series for All Things Insights, “Exploring 10 Myths About Global Consumers & Sustainability.”

Contributor

  • Justin Coates

    Justin Coates is Eastman’s Head of Global Market Research & Consumer Insights, responsible for leading business intelligence, customer experience, user experience, foresighting, and consumer insights across Eastman. Before joining Eastman in 2017, Coates spent a decade at Cotton Incorporated managing their global consumer insights research and positioning himself as a thought leader on consumer trends with the world’s largest brands and retailers. He holds a Masters of Economics degree from North Carolina State University and a Bachelors of Arts degree in Political Science from High Point University. Coates lives with his wife and son in Kingsport, Tennessee.

    View all posts

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