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Sustainability is the Market. Making it Easy is the Whitespace.

September 7, 2019

Earth’s climate is warming. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased 300% since 1960[1]. Sea levels are rising 3.3 millimeters per year and the rate of Artic ice-mass loss has tripled in the last decade.[2]

As the effects of climate change become more dramatic, consumers are taking note. In fact, 97% of the global population is unanimously concerned with at least one environmental issue.[3] Our infographic shows sentiment throughout the world for the key environmental issues facing us today. And yet, even with increased concern across the world, research has shown that consumers fall short when matching their eco-friendly beliefs to eco-friendly behaviors. According to Big Village’s International Earth Day 2019 study, only 46% of global consumers have purchased or would be willing to purchase from companies that emphasize sustainability.

With 97% concerned and only 46% taking action, the disconnect is clear. But why?

In today’s marketplace, consumers want brands to be more than just a product or service. Cassandra, Big Village’s youth and culture specialists, found that in addition to providing community and entertainment, young consumer want brands to be activists. Millennial and Gen Z consumers interweaves their identity with social and political movements.

In the past, brands defined the consumer. Today, Millennial and Gen Z consumers define the brand by aligning their purchases with the lifestyle they believe in. This means, if brands want the business of young consumers, brands must actively use their global visibility and financial means to create change that aligns with the beliefs of their consumers.

Easy—sort of. What we’re talking about here is brand purpose, which is not a new concept. There already is a massive sustainable products and services market. And, according to Big Village’s study, 81% of consumers are already factoring the sustainability efforts of brands into their purchasing decisions. So, if this is the case, we’re back to our original question:

Why are less than half of consumers taking action? What is driving this gap between consumer intent and behavior?

Simply put: a means to do so.

Consumers want to make responsible “green” purchases, but do not always have the means to do so. For brands, this is an opportunity. It’s the whitespace in the sustainability industry. Eighty-three percent of global consumers report more admiration for companies and brands that are committed to environmental stewardship, while 81% factor sustainability into their buying decisions. Consumers want to support brands that care about the environment and health of the planet. Yet, with less than half of consumers taking action, brands must make supporting these values easier.

An impressive 33% of consumers wish product packaging was more clearly marked for recycling and composting. Two in three consumers report cost as the greatest barrier to living a “greener” lifestyle. Issues like price point, access to sustainable products, and lack of knowledge on sustainability prevent consumers from doing their part to save the planet when making purchasing decisions—something they very much want to do. And all of these challenges are something companies have the ability to help solve.

Take Adidas, for example. People need sneakers and will buy sneakers no matter what. But the options of sneaker brands is endless. So, how does Adidas stand out in such a crowded marketplace? By making the mere purchase of a shoe, something the consumer will regardless, become a sustainability effort in itself. In 2015, Adidas partnered with Parley for Oceans. In 2017, Adidas and Parley for Oceans produced a limited edition sneaker made entirely of marine plastic waste. Adidas connected their consumers’ wish to be greener with an action they were already going to do—purchasing a sneaker. Easy. In one clear action, Adidas consumers could now satisfy their need for new shoes and their desire to be eco-friendly. The 2017 sneakers sold out instantly. This year, Adidas plans to sell 5MM more marine plastic sneakers at a retail value of $220 a pair. That’s more than a billion dollars in revenue by aligning with their consumers’ passion for sustainability, and then making it easy to participate.

Sustainability is the market. Making it easy is the whitespace.

Brands have the opportunity to take advantage of the gap between consumers’ eco-friendly beliefs and eco-friendly actions. Between the two, there is a massive disconnect. Helping consumers connect the two is the whitespace ready for the taking. Our latest infographic shows the opportunities brands have to make an impact with consumers and help the planet at the same time.

The world is at a cultural and environmental turning point. Businesses that create a more sustainable future through action, accessibility, and inclusion will rise above those who see sustainability as an “added bonus”. The admiration consumers feel towards eco-friendly companies can translate into brand loyalty, if brands do it right. Earth Day comes but once a year, aligning yourself with consumers’ feelings towards sustainability, and making it easy for them to join in, can help ensure your brand (and the planet) is here for generation to come.

The question now becomes how?