Following COP26 the spotlight is firmly on sustainability, so how should consumer brands be behaving?

Following COP26 the spotlight is firmly on sustainability, so how should consumer brands be behaving?

Scotland played host to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow earlier this month and there was no way you could miss it as it took over news agendas, social channels and general conversation.

Designed to bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the need for change was made clear but what is the desire for these changes and what does this mean for consumer brands?

While brands measure success in various ways, a common theme is always going to be profit. Sustainability, along with ethics, are values we now see running through the culture of some consumer brands but others are still almost exclusively focused on the bottom line and the numbers.

The pandemic is thought to have already shifted consumer behaviours as people realise they need less stuff and instead want more experiences and according to YouGov, who surveyed 2,000+ UK adults earlier this year, sustainability came out as a key consideration for consumers today, with 32% claiming to be highly engaged with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.
As many as 28% of those surveyed went as far as to say that they have actively stopped buying products due to ethical or environmental concerns. If you focus in on generation Z alone (24-year-olds and under), that number jumps from 28% to a massive 45%. Gen Z are the future and as wealth transfers to this younger generation, sustainability and ethics need to become standard practice and brands will need to exhibit transparency to appeal to this newer consumer.

With every generation, sustainability will only become more and more ingrained in purchasing decisions. Most brands have started the conversation and taken some action regarding their sustainability credentials (and they’d be mad not to) but it is clear they must take meaningful action now to make their products more sustainable and build accountability into their values. If they don’t, their survival time is likely limited (which is a better outcome than the planet’s survival being limited).

We saw some brands make commitments at COP26 and only time will tell what legacy comes from the conference but it’s clear that consumers are now watching and they have never been so conscious of their spending decisions so brands need to take notice.

EasyJet’s attendance at COP26 saw them announce their desire to be the first to fly passengers in hydrogen-powered Airbus aircrafts from 2035 and British fashion brands including Burberry, Stella McCartney and Mulberry took part in a fashion show at the global event, pledging their commitment to making changes for the good of the environment.
While organisations look at ways to meet their consumers increasingly environmentally conscious needs, and promote these credentials to their existing and potential customers, it’s important that ‘greenwashing’ is not a part of the communications process.

‘Greenwashing’ is essentially a tactic we have seen adopted by some organisations who understand the importance of the sustainability message but instead of taking real action they are using their marketing and PR to trick consumers into thinking their products are more environmentally friendly.
This is not a smart move and as we’ve seen with brands who have done this before, it will come back to bite them and ultimately showcase them as a brand that is not trustworthy. It is therefore vital that organisations actually commit to greener values and carefully consider how they communicate their efforts to avoid backlash. Transparency is now too important for any brand to ignore.