Sustainable Living: Conscious Consumer Values
Fairtrade Foundation’s Barbara Crowther says 76% of the public believe independent third-party certification is the best way to verify a product’s social or sustainable living claims.
According to Lucy Atkinson, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, while the trust of US consumers lies in government or third-party labels, the appeal of a company doing good is found in a brand’s own labeling.
Ethical Supply Chains
Eco fashion expert, Marci Zaroff, explained that sustainability speaks to the heart as it plays on “a connection for the greater good.” There are personal conflicts between doing the right thing, affordability and style. While many people are concerned about ethical practices, they have to pay close attention to their budgets and style, too.
Consumers vary widely on what aspects or qualities of sustainable living they value. For example, for some people the environment is an important factor, for others human rights.
Envero’s James Cashmore explained that telling an authentic, heartfelt story is important: “Many brands use rational/corporate language and concepts when talking about sustainable living, when what they need to do is think about creating consumer advocacy by building much stronger emotional connections.” But Atkinson says, with “the vast majority of ads being ambiguous, misleading or deceptive” companies need to make sure claims have integrity.
Brands That Are Self-Explanatory
Consumers want brands to explain themselves through marketing so they don’t have to do the work themselves. They have more confidence in a product which tells its own story rather than to have to do research on their own.
Consumer priorities differ depending on the type of product. Cashmore explained: “In certain categories – dairy, coffee, chocolate for example – consumers have a more developed understanding of what the supply chain is. In others – soft drinks, snacks, cereals, babyhood and most non-food categories except fashion – the concept of supply chain is a little vaguer.”
While packaging that comes from a recognized renewable resource is seen as being more sustainable, there are benefits from non-recyclable materials that consumers are unaware of.
“In the case of plastic films, for example, there is actually some clever technology in use that enables a longer shelf life for the product. Although a consumer might see that style of packaging as ‘bad’ it often has much less of an impact if it can minimize the product being wasted,” wrote Simon Oxley a packaging technologist at Marks and Spencer.
Perceptions of the role of business in ensuring ethical supply chains differ from market to market. “It’s interesting how broader cultural beliefs shape expectations of the obligation and potential for businesses to play their part in solving social and environmental problems,” commented Cashmore.
Emphasizing the human benefits of ethical buying is the most important factor, as Crowther explains: “It is not just about functional information or education, but a genuinely emotional connection to the positive benefits that can be delivered.” Bringing consumers closer to the farmers who produce their purchases is one way to forge this connection. If consumers are passionate about the subject, they’re more likely to go along with the plan, and endorse the sustainable living model.
Sustainability is Critical
In a perfect world, ethics would be the rule of the land, with sustainable living first and foremost throughout the supply chain. An example of a supermarket already following these principles is Swiss chain, Migros, which won’t stock products it’s not happy with. “It’s decisions like this that consumers notice when they are decoding the underlying values behind a company or brand. Migros definitely earns trust and loyalty from its principled position,” wrote Cashmore.
While the long term vision is for sustainable living to be the norm, until this is achieved “the public has a massively important role to play in sending a clear message to companies in where they spend their money,” Crowther concluded. How do we motivate consumers to value sustainability and make it a priority?
Sustainability Vs. Price
The true value of sustainability needs to be the norm, so consumers can see that sustainably-sourced goods don’t just reflect their values, but also provide better value. “Also,” adds Atkinson, “we must make these options more accessible and more available to consumers who have less disposable income. It shouldn’t just be the wealthy who can afford to shop this way.”
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