The consideration of environmental issues has been gaining priority for businesses, marketers and consumers alike for a decade. A proliferation of green-tinged marketing has led to what some call “green fatigue” among consumers, who have become more knowledgeable and, subsequently, more cynical of claims made by marketers about their brand’s products and services.
Nevertheless, there is abundant evidence that most people would like to “do their bit”, but often with the proviso that doing so does not cost more money. This caveat can only become more significant as the UK enters what is now officially a recession.
New global research from TNS shows UK customers are the least willing to pay for greener products. While 59% of respondents across the globe say they are happy to pay more, in the UK the figure drops to just 45%. In a similar vein, only 11% in the UK say their food purchase decisions are “significantly” influenced by green factors.
And while 60% of UK consumers purport to believing it is right for retailers to limit choice by removing non-sustainable products from their shelves, the UK is the most apathetic country in the world when it comes to supporting retail outlets that do this, with only 34% in the UK saying they would compared to 79% in Italy and 71% in Spain.
Further research from TNS shows that while many consumers are happy to call for drastic measures to make our cities more environmentally friendly, 72% admit they would not consider giving up their cars unless public transport was free.
When it comes to travel, UK consumers are just as frank about their reluctance to take environmental factors into consideration, with 55% saying they have no impact on their decision making, according to data from G2 Data Dynamics.
While some brands such as The Co-operative, The Body Shop and Marks & Spencer routinely top polls for the most ethical brands – including the recent Consumers and Ethical Brands 2008-11-06 study by GfK – this perception is not always translated into an increase in sales.
The growing pressure on the public and gap between attitude and behaviour makes the way participants in research are approached a delicate issue.
Spring Research managing partner Stephen Phillips says “It is important to approach that gap between the public’s attitude and behaviour in a way that allows participants in research to express their views without fear of judgement.”
Phillips says this can be addressed in qualitative research by grouping respondents together by attitude and behaviour so they feel able to openly discuss issues. In quantitative research, he advocates posing non-directed questions, such as asking people to note everything that happened during their “car buying story”, then analysing whether green issues played a part in the process.
Touch DDB planner Simon Ringshall says the proliferation of logos on products that denote some kind of environmental friendliness – organic, local, carbon footprint, food miles, recycled packaging and so on – makes them incomparable and reduces their usefulness to baffled consumers. Ringshall advocates the development of a single environmental standard as a starting point that might allow comparisons to be made.
With such initiatives on the agenda (See Carbon Footprint Standard box), many believe that companies cannot afford to get left behind when it comes to the environment – even though there is little evidence that UK consumers are willing to spend more on greener products.
Peter Heath, managing director of easyFairs – organiser of the Ecopack sustainable packaging show – says: “Economic conditions are challenging and it may be tempting to make quick savings by shelving green initiatives but brands risk irreparable damage to their image.”
Steve Kelsey, director of packaging design specialists PI3, agrees: “There is some speculation that the environment is optional in the face of a market crash, but this will be a short-lived phenomena. After a brief pause for panic, the environmental work will continue.”
Some industry experts believe the financial downturn will offer brands a chance to gain a competitive advantage by creating choices that offer sustainability and value.
Added Value UK managing director Marie Ridgley says: “Brands need to find the ‘sweet spot’ where their values, value proposition and sustainability strategy overlap.” She adds that brands should decide how to engage in sustainability in a way that fits with their core “DNA”.
Although UK consumers are reluctant to pay more for environmentally friendly products, the issues facing the welfare of the planet are not going to go away. The challenge for companies is to deliver against their responsibility to provide a sustainable choice and also deliver against the need to provide value.
Food Miles Study
If attitudes to environmental issues harden during the economic gloom, brands should take note, warns BMRB marketing director Steve Cooke. TGI data shows that between 2000 and 2006, 13% of adults felt there was “too much concern” about the environment, in 2007 this rose to 15% and in 2008-11-06 there is a sharp increase to 21%.
The Food Miles study by BMRB reveals that two-thirds of adults are aware of the concept of Food Miles and the proportion of shoppers who regularly buy British-grown fruit and vegetables has risen to 54%. Also, 86% of shoppers say they would buy more British food if it was available – but only 43% would be prepared to pay more for it.
Nearly a third of shoppers (31%) believe the main reason there is not more British produced food in the shops is because it costs too much. A sizable minority (27%) take the view that the UK should maintain or increase imports of food to maintain variety in the shops and keep costs as low as possible, even if this is more damaging to the environment. This is up from 23% last year.
However, there remains a substantial number of shoppers willing to pay a premium for green products. TGI 2008-11-06 data shows that 37% of adults are prepared to pay more for environmentally friendly products. This group are more likely than average to be young, upmarket shoppers. They are likely to buy ethically and have an interest in food – they check for nutritional content, prefer to buy organic and free-range items and will pay more for food that does not contain artificial additives.
Case Study: The 11th Hour
If you’re marketing a film that explores the ecological impact mankind is having on the planet, you better be sure the packaging is consistent with the theme. Warner Bros DVD The 11th Hour – produced and starring Leonardo DiCaprio – presented exactly this challenge to St Ives Music and Multimedia.
Martin Still, special projects manager at St Ives Music and Multimedia, says it was critical that the packaging for this documentary reflected the gravity of the subject matter, so making the DVD tray and case 100% biodegradable was the most significant way of achieving this. This approach had never been used for such a high-profile film.
Warner Bros also asked St Ives to make the DVD case appear noticeably “earthy”. St Ives sourced and sampled many different substrates for the DVD box outer-casing, and chose chipboard made from 100% post-consumer waste.
St Ives researched existing technology options across Europe to find a green alternative to the plastic DVD tray. However, it proved difficult to find a solution that would provide the necessary quality. Eventually, the company found a tray, which is 100% biodegradable, made from paper, cornstarch and potato. This tray not only fulfils the client’s environmental specifications, but also contributes to the packaging’s organic appearance.
As the chosen tray was considerably lighter than its plastic equivalent, the outer-casing was upgraded to double thickness to give the DVD box a more solid structure.
St Ives printed The 11th Hour pack using KBA 41405, six colour presses and eco-friendly, vegetable-based inks. The packaging was finished using a Bobst Spanthera Die Cutter and Bobst Fuego Gluer, and the DVD tray was positioned and attached with an Esatec machine.
Case Study: ORANGE
A great deal of focus has been placed on the green production of point of sale material, but little attention has – until now – been placed on how material is “handled” post-campaign, most notably ensuring that it is disposed of in an environmentally cautious manner, and not simply confined to landfill. But brands such as Orange are now working with suppliers to minimise the environmental legacy of their in-store campaigns.
In one assignment, during a two-week period, in-store installation partner CJ Services removed a wide range of items from 170 Orange stores across the UK. MDF was sent to UK power stations for use as fuel, metal was recycled into anything from window grilles to fencing and plastic was sent for the manufacture of pens and garden furniture. Other in-store decorations were donated to local schools and display mobile phones were given to special needs schools, with other items being reconditioned for reuse in Orange stores.
“Finding innovative ways to recycle certain PoP material is a big challenge. MDF, for instance, is a difficult and harmful product that takes hundreds of years to break down,” says CJ Services sales director Tom Garner.
“There is also the argument for greater collaboration between all those involved in the PoP process, when it comes to environmentally credible ‘cradle to grave’ solutions – such as PoP manufacturers incorporating more detailed labelling of parts used with PoP displays to enable more effective recycling, such as similar schemes being introduced by some motor manufacturers.”
What can be recycled post-campaign?
- Steel brackets can be turned into fencing
- Plastic fascia panels can become plastic pens
- Plastic shelf edges can be used v for garden furniture
- Aluminium side panels can be turned into window grilles
- Perspex graphics can be used to make floor-covering
- MDF header board can be sent to power stations for use in fuel production