Why Your Brand Needs to Have the ‘Carbon Conversation,’ Part 1
Have you ever made a conscious effort to "go green" by changing up your daily routine or swapping out certain products on your shopping list for more sustainable ones? Perhaps you started biking to work instead of driving (if you're not working remotely) or invested in reusable household items like metal straws and glass jars. You aren't alone. A 2019 study found that 77 percent of people want to learn how to live more sustainably. Nearly 60 percent of consumers in a global survey said they're willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact, and 78 percent said it's at least moderately important that brands offer eco-friendly or "clean" products.
Today's information-seeking shoppers want to know how the brands they purchase, and the retailers that sell them, are helping to solve the environmental concerns that are top-of-mind. Consumers' purchasing power helps them feel they're part of a collective effort to improve the world we live in. So how can brands and retailers share their sustainability efforts with consumers in a way that positively impacts their purchasing decisions and brand loyalty?
Consider Carbon Scores On-Pack and Online
The consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry can participate and motivate consumers to reduce their carbon footprint by making information about a product's carbon emissions more accessible to shoppers. For example, data from the Coca-Cola Company reveals that producing one liter of the brand's flagship soda results in 346g of carbon dioxide emissions. If numbers like this were readily available to the shopper as an education source, they might reconsider or look for an alternative.
That could be achieved by printing carbon emission information on product packaging or listing it alongside each product online with a calculated "carbon score." When a customer makes a purchase, the carbon score of their shopping basket could be tallied and shared with the customer. Depending on the retailer’s strategy, each customer’s “carbon score” could also be used to contribute to the rewards they can earn for their participation in the retailer's loyalty program.
Demand from environmentally-conscious consumers is pushing this concept forward, much like shoppers pushed for better nutrition facts labels 30 years ago. Before 1990, information about ingredients and calories, salt, sugar and fat contents weren't mandated on food and beverage products in the U.S. Now, these labels are standard on nearly all edible products.
Notably, the regulations have mostly been optional for alcohol, and therefore nutrition labels are scarce on beer, wine and liquor bottles. But in the last few years, increased consumer demand has influenced many brands to add information on-pack. Alcohol segments that already market with a better-for-you angle, such as hard seltzer and light beer, have been among the first to jump on this train.
As I talked about in a recent episode of The Omnichallenge with Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, the same patterns of customer influence that changed nutrition labels are now playing out with carbon.
Make Carbon Conversations Part of the Norm
Like most trends, the carbon label movement first gained steam among smaller brands, particularly those whose products have an environmental focus. Meat alternative company Quorn added carbon information to most of its packaging in 2020, estimating a product's total carbon emissions from farm to shelf. Plant-based milk alternative Oatly also now features carbon figures on its cartons and lists the same information on its website.
Larger players aren't far behind. Unilever announced in February that it was working to introduce carbon labeling to the company, with plans to eventually communicate the carbon footprint of every product it sells. The company expects to test carbon footprint labels on about two dozen of its products in North America and Europe, and measure the carbon footprint of 30,000 of its products by the end of 2021.
By calculating those numbers and making them freely available, brands can bring environmental factors into the product research process that consumers already go through before making a purchase. The information can be directly communicated to consumers using software that integrates at the point of sale. We all make choices when we buy food, clothes and other consumables, but without accessible carbon information, it's hard to tell if we're making the best choices for the environment.
Providing information about a product's carbon footprint can help our planet both collectively and individually, and it has the potential to change consumer behaviors. For example, once a consumer has shopped with a brand or retailer that provides carbon emissions information, it may be harder for him/her to shop with companies that don't.
Retailers that are able to provide this information will also benefit from the ability to analyze the changing patterns of their customers’ shopping behaviors as a result, and will be able to use these data-driven insights to provide more value to their customers by making personalized recommendations on other products/brands or even activities that they could engage with to help them reduce their carbon footprint further. This approach also can build stronger brand loyalty and ultimately create more sustainable shopping habits, with everyone across the supply chain doing their part.
Tim Mason is CEO of Eagle Eye Solutions, a leading SaaS technology company transforming marketing by creating digital connections that enable personalised performance marketing in real time through coupons, loyalty, apps, subscriptions and gift services.
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Tim has been CEO of Eagle Eye since September 2016, joining as Chairman in January 2016. He has over 30 years’ experience within the grocery and retail industries, with a strong background in strategic marketing and customer loyalty.
Previously, Tim was a managing director at Sun Capital Partners and Chairman of Bonmarché Holdings plc from 2013 to 2015. Prior to that he was Deputy CEO at Tesco from January 2010 to December 2012. He held a number of other roles within the Tesco Group between 1982 and 2012 including CMO for Tesco and CEO of Fresh & Easy LLC. Tim spearheaded Tesco’s bid to crack America, and was responsible for the expansion and operations of 150 stores US wide.
Throughout his career at Tesco, he was renowned for being in touch with the customer, and instrumental in the creation of some of Tesco’s most successful marketing initiatives (Clubcard, Express, Personal Finance and Tesco.com). He is also a Director of It's Fresh Ltd and Purple.