There can be little doubt that the next major challenge facing brands is consumers’ response to carbon emissions. Since 2000 people have adapted their behaviours regarding smoking, obesity and exercise, but the big issue now is carbon.
Research shows consumer attitudes are reaching a tipping point in relation to the environment. People are highly aware of the impact of climate change, they are ready to respond to the challenges it presents and are looking to convert their attitudes into behaviour. As people make the tangible and visible link between carbon emissions and climate, brands will begin to face a range of threats and opportunities.
Behavioural change among consumers will be rapid and immediate. How many mainstream brands are prepared for this?People already choose healthier options. Smoking is in decline and no longer acceptable in offices and public buildings. There is now a marked backlash against fattening and salt-laden products – Sainsbury’s has experienced a 36% reduction in sales of high-calorie foods in the past month and a disproportionate increase in lower-calorie products. Energy efficiency indicators on white goods have led to an almost unanimous selection of AB category products and ethical brands such as Fairtrade have seen a 600% increase in sales since 2000.
Low-emission behaviour will become the normal expectation for brands over the coming year and consumers will learn to differentiate and choose brands that are doing more to minimise environmental impact and offer lower carbon emissions.
There are a few brands beginning to take the lead. Luxury Explorer, an upmarket travel portal, is launching a carbon neutral initiative, which it says offers consumers a tangible way to offset carbon emissions (MW last week). Yet it is surprising that so few marketers are using similar policies to their advantage.
We will find that the smart brands will be those that promote the fact that their emissions are lower than competitors’, and consumers will rapidly come to choose the lower option. Already car C02 emissions are influencing company car policy and petrol prices have encouraged a 50% increase in low-emission models, but were manufacturers to market and label low-emission benefits clearly, consumers will make even starker choices.
EasyJet appears to have recognised this and earlier this month declared a shift in advertising strategy away from price to promoting its green credentials (MW November 9). It is unsurprising that the first major sector to be affected is transport – category emissions are still rising as consumers take more holidays and commute further, while bus miles, cycling and walking have all fallen since the 1990s, and much has been made in the past week of inflation-busting rises in train fares, which will encourage consumers to make less environmentally friendly choices.
Something radical must happen, as transport can play a significant role in reducing emissions. The UK must meet its Kyoto targets. That means we all have to modify our behaviour – our journey to work, our leisure miles, how we choose our cars, whether we boycott inefficient carbon users and make choices as to which products and services use less carbon.
Supermarkets and retailers still have a long way to go. Wouldn’t you choose the locally grown lower-emission beans over those shipped in from Kenya, and question whether we actually need to buy strawberries flown in from Chile?Many brands are vulnerable to a change in consumers’ sensibilities, but many could benefit immediately from labelling lower emissions. The only barrier is people’s knowledge of what a lower-emission brand is. There is precious little information provided about the level of carbon emissions that has gone into bringing a product to consumers – the distance the product has travelled, the energy that has gone into producing it – we need a clear system that gives us immediate choice and empowers consumers to choose low options.
Brands that are at the forefront of producing and communicating low emissions can benefit immediately and those who take the advantage now will be winners in the medium term. But the majority are looking very vulnerable to changing consumer sentiments. Why wait for a competitor to turn the market on its head?
• Ashley Goodall is managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi Design