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Why consumers value brands that practice sustainability

Why consumers value brands that practice sustainability

Patagonia, TOMS, and Burt's Bees lead the Momentive poll of sustainable consumer brands.

From dishwashing soap to high-end liquor and clothing, sustainability is a topic that’s impacting all consumer brands. Whether the subject is reuse, recycling, or reducing the carbon footprint, leading brands are making noise about their intention to provide more sustainable versions of their products.

For CPG companies, sustainability likely means a move to a more environmentally-friendly packaging solution. According to the Consumer Brands Association, the 25 largest consumer packaged goods companies have made commitments to increase recyclable content, minimize packaging, or reuse material. And 80% of those companies are working toward fully recyclable packaging for all their products.

For apparel manufacturers, it might be sharing technology and material innovations to make a more sustainable athletic shoe, like the collaboration between Allbirds and Adidas. The 2 companies are committed to creating a performance shoe with the lowest possible carbon footprint on record.

However, these kinds of transformations don’t come cheap. So why are consumer brands so willing to make a commitment that will likely add costs and time to their product development strategies?

There are several drivers for more sustainable practices. First, leading brands are moving towards sustainability because they believe it's the right thing to do from an environmental and business perspective. 

Innovations by technology companies, including Danimer Scientific and Pulpex, have resulted in compostable bottles that will replace plastic bottles, over time. Beverage companies, including Diageo, Pepsico and Bacardi, are highly invested in these developments, and have committed to replacing their current plastic or glass bottles with compostable or renewable options in the near future. 

The benefit for the environment? Compostable plant-based bottles from Danimer Scientific break down over 18 months, vs. 400 years for a plastic bottle. And pulp-based Pulpex packaging is PET-free, breaks down over time, and will ultimately be cheaper than glass.

The second reason for sustainability can be attributed to know-thy-customer responsiveness: Consumers increasingly care about environmental issues and choose brands that reflect their beliefs.  

According to our recent study of 1,097 U.S. consumers* using Momentive market research solutions, 44% of consumers say they care about environmental issues much more today than they did a year ago. What’s more, nearly 8 in 10 have made purchase decisions based on their values in the past year.

Consumers are highly aware of brands that care about sustainability. Respondents to our study ranked Burt's Bees, TOMS, and Patagonia as the top 3 brands that take positive actions to protect the environment. These companies have based their brand DNA on sustainability from the very start, and continue to reap the benefits of this consumer awareness.

However, consumer understanding of sustainability practices is in constant flux, creating a challenge for consumer brands to keep up. Only 4% of U.S. consumers say they are not confused by their recycling system. So, is it worth the effort to shift from recyclable to compostable packaging for a customer base who may not understand the value? 

Our research says “yes.” When asked about their preferred choices of packaging, consumers ranked recyclable fourth behind reusable, compostable, and recycled packaging—all more current and meaningful standards for sustainability.

So, how can CPG brands stay ahead of the sustainability curve, the competition, and customer demands? And, how can they help their brands evolve to keep up with consumers’ values and beliefs? 

Green initiatives, like compostable packaging or sustainability messaging, can have a big impact on brand health. And market research solutions, like brand tracking, can help brands see a correlation between how sustainability initiatives can improve brand performance over time. 

Brand tracking has traditionally been a slow-moving process that can cost millions of dollars and take months to produce static, sometimes quickly outdated reports. It typically provides a rearview mirror view versus a current understanding based on periodic measurement.

Today’s consumer brands need a more agile approach. New technologies, such as the Momentive Brand Tracking solution, give companies the ability to continuously measure brand performance and tap into consumer sentiment whenever they need it. Today, brands can track their vitals on a variety of metrics—from awareness to reputation and purchase consideration—and spot changes in real time.

In addition, brands can customize their trackers and collect data on the specific attributes that relate to company sustainability goals. By creating a “pick-list” of aspirational traits (like “sustainable” or “cares about the environment”), or by asking consumers to agree or disagree with attitudinal statements, brands can track the attributes they care about, and include questions about their sustainability initiatives.

These new techniques offer up-to-the-minute insights into brand health, and can help companies gauge the effectiveness of brand campaigns and initiatives. More importantly, brand tracking can uncover how investments in sustainability are hitting the mark with consumers.

Long-term, brand tracking can measure whether brand values resonate with target consumers and trickle down into awareness, preference, and ultimately, loyalty. When used in conjunction with other market research tools, such as concept testing or attitudinal studies, brand tracking can be even more powerful.

For example, a Momentive Usage & Attitudes study can help companies define their top consumer segments, what they care about, how they shop and the best way to get their attention. Collecting these insights in a complementary study can help companies better understand the “why” behind the shifts in trend data.

Testing a concept before launch can also uncover how a sustainable package design will resonate with consumers. Companies can collect feedback from a target audience on packaging designs by comparing and scoring multiple concepts to maximize overall appeal and value.

The bottom line is in fact, the bottom line: Brand values are inextricably tied to other company goals, like financial performance. Promoting sustainable values is great, but ultimately, consumers’ purchase decisions show how much it really matters.

In our study, 70% of consumers said they are very likely to purchase from a company that shares their environmental values. And, more than three-quarters of consumers said it’s worth it to pay more for environmentally friendly products. 

Consumers are willing to pay, so now it’s up to brands to make good on their commitment to sustainability—and use research to determine which elements of an environmentally-friendly, sustainable brand matter most.

Find out how to track your brand performance and stay on top of industry trends with market research solutions from Momentive.

Methodology: This study was conducted using SurveyMonkey Market Research Solutions in March 2021 to collect a sample of 1,097 adults in the U.S. The sample was balanced for age, gender and US Region according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.