Does your brand look like garbage to your customers?

Sustainable packaging, practices and ingredients are fast becoming hot topics as consumers expect more brands to take a socially responsible approach to the lifecycle of their products
Mounds of garbage abandoned by recycling workers at Dongxiaokou, Beijing.

Mounds of garbage abandoned by recycling workers at Dongxiaokou, Beijing.

Big brands spend millions on branding, packaging and marketing their wares. Yet when empty plastic bottles and bags end up scattered along beaches and parks, all that brand equity looks like nothing more than garbage.

We talk to marketing leaders and sustainable brand experts to discover what sustainable product management means to today’s socially conscious consumer, and why it’s more important to embrace it as part of brand strategy than ever before.

Consumers protest against the waste epidemic

The waste epidemic and its impact on the environment is increasingly in the media spotlight, with Clean Up Australia estimating 1 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded worldwide every year. To make matters worse, Australians are now listed as the second highest producers of waste per person in the world after the US.

The stats are simply staggering. Australians produce over 18 million tonnes of waste per year, or the equivalent of three million garbage trucks full of compacted rubbish. Each Australian family contributes enough rubbish a year to fill a three-bedroom house from floor to ceiling and Australians use enough plastic bags per year that if these were tied together, they would stretch around the world 24 times.

But consumers are finally waking up to the fact that both individuals and brands must take responsibility for cleaning up their act. In March, global protests pushed Samsung to outline its sustainability plans to recycle the 4.3 million Galaxy Note 7 devices produced and recalled worldwide following battery faults. The tech giant also joined new research conducted by the European Union aimed at developing a new environmentally friendly technology to recycle smartphones.

This came nearly five months of campaigning and global protests addressing the environmental impact of the recall.

“Global warming is real and it’s the responsibility of everyone to try to do better,” founder of sustainable and cruelty free haircare brand Hot Tresses, Greer Quinn, tells CMO. “The idea of all this wastage makes me feel sad. I grew up on an organic farm. We had rain water tanks and our own sewage/biocycle system. Growing up like that makes you aware of your global footprint. I still wish I could do better.”

In order to meet the expectations of customers and retailers, Quinn says Hot Tresses is both eco-luxe and vegan, uses 100 per cent recyclable tubes, and prepares all online orders using compostable packaging consisting of natural cardboard and wood wool. The range is also presented in organic calico bags that double-up as nut-milk making bags or strainers.

“Not only does our packaging and presentation look beautiful, it sends a wonderful message to our customers,” Quinn says. “We also avoid excessive point-of-sales displays as we’ve been told by retailers they’re often only used for a short period of time before being dumped in the bin.”

In an age of corporate social responsibility, Quinn stressed it’s important to stand for something as a business.

“You need to make sure that what you stand for is consistent throughout all aspects of your business,” she says. “If we’re not trying to do better, we’re not trying hard enough. I think the costs of not doing the right thing outweigh the costs of doing the right thing.”

FMCG packaging company, Zacpac, has also noticed recycling and sustainability practices playing an increasing important part in business decisions when choosing the right packaging manufacturer.

“This has become more and more relevant over the last 12 - 18 months and is exactly why we wanted our Queensland manufacturing plant to be among the most modern and environmentally friendly in Australia,” Zacpac marketer, Charmaine Thring, says. “Our clients are assured that that everything that rolls off the production line is recyclable. And all our unsold product is pulped and recycled, which of course means our end users can recycle them too.”

Sustainability and customer loyalty

Bands and retailers serious about meeting increasing consumer expectations around sustainability are making leaps and bounds into ethical packaging that minimises environmental impact.

Australian e-retailer, Flora & Fauna, prides itself in working only with ethical vegan and cruelty free skincare, beauty, fashion and lifestyle brands as part of its mission to change the way consumers shop in a sustainable way.

“There are so many better alternatives in the world that have a minimal impact on our environment, animals and us and we aim to get as many of these as we can to people,” Flora & Fauna’s CEO and founder, Julie Mathers, says. “Our ethics and values are core to supporting this, and we talk about them every day and our decisions reflect our values. Being ethical and sustainable is core to what we do and it’s what we are known for. “

Flora & Fauna sells more than 120 brands and 2500 products and Mathers says the retailer actively seeks out brands focused on biodegradable or sustainable packaging.

“We have many zero waste products packaged with recycled paper or no packaging,” she says. “We have also just started stocking a face lotion that comes in a biodegradable 'plastic' tube and a lot of our products come in glass.

“And all of our orders are sent out in recycled boxes 'naked'. We do not put them in a parcel bag and even wrap the box with paper tape. It's very important to us to do our part when it comes to stopping single use plastic. We don’t need to add to the problem and there are alternatives.”

Having an ethical packaging model has not only added brand value and equity to Flora & Fauna, it’s also been an integral part of boosting customer loyalty and retention, Mathers claims.

“Our retention is high and our ethical packaging, and focus, is a core part of our brand, and our customers know us for being ethical and responsible,” she says. “The feedback we receive is never around price, it is always around the customer experience and beautifully, ethically wrapped parcels.

“That is exactly how we want to be known and our customer loyalty is very high. People want more than price, they want a retailer that holds similar values and they shop with us because we have taken a stance, have a strong ethos and are making a difference.”

As a result of this strong and consistent ethical focus, the retailer has just been shortlisted in the World Retail Awards as Responsible Retailer of the Year alongside heavyweights such as Otto, Myer, Carrefour (France) and Woolworths (South Africa).

“Without our focus on being ethical a small retailer from Australia would never make the shortlist of any category and that immediately adds brand equity,” Mathers says. “It gives us global presence which helps us achieve our mission.”

Up next: How the fashion industry is tackling its garbage problem

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Slowing down the fast fashion footprint

Sustainability isn’t just in beauty products; clothing producers are also in the spotlight. The rise of fast fashion brands and their growing global environmental impact has meant more consumers are becoming conscious of more ethical alternatives, sparking brands to rethink their sustainable practices as an integral part of their brand strategy

April marked the release of H&M’s sixth ‘Conscious Exclusive’ range, a capsule collection of clothing reportedly made to its highest principles of sustainable and fair trade practices.

But despite the Swedish fast fashion giant’s long-term sustainability ethos as released in its annual Sustainability Report last year, the ‘Conscious Exclusive’ collection forms just a tiny portion of its wider fast fashion production.

Locally, Aussie organic babywear retailer, Niovi Organics, is witnessing the pollution caused by the fast fashion industry in developing countries and is endeavouring to combat this with fundamental core brand values around safety, sustainability and transparency, its founder, Punitha Anandam, says.

“While importing our products, we have meticulously designed our products to reduce environmental footprint wherever possible,” she says. “We have limited satin labels in our clothing and printed labels wherever possible. The tags used for our clothing are made of decomposable cardboard too.”

When it comes to packaging, Niovi uses fully decomposable cardboard boxes during shipment, while gift boxes are made of recycled wood and can be reused.

Niovi Organics wooden box
Niovi Organics wooden box

“Plus all our products are wrapped in a fully decomposable tissue paper before being posted to customers,” Anandam continues.

According to Anandam, Niovi Organics’ ethical packaging model has been well received by customers and added to overall awareness of the brand.

When people buy our products they are pleased with the reusability of our gift boxes,” she says. “They are happy with the fact it’s not only sustainable, but a cool storage addition to their home. As our boxes are going to stay in our customers’ homes, it actually improves our brand awareness and we believe it would benefit us in the long run. The feedback we have been getting has been positive so far.”

Marketing executive for British fashion retailer, A Hume Country Clothing, Sam Williamson, agrees a consistent sustainable model from production through to delivery resonates strongly with customers, something the company recently did when shifting to recyclable online packaging.

“We insist on using ethical and sustainable packaging because it is completely aligned with our brand philosophy,” Williamson says. “Our clothes are created with sustainable materials and fabrics, and we spend huge amounts of time and money to ensure that our clothing is ethical. It makes sense that our packaging should follow suit.

“And it makes our brand stronger - definitely. In fact, many customers have expressed a relief that our packaging now aligns with the rest of our products. They've also said they're more likely to order online now rather than collect in-store, as they know the packaging is sustainable so they have less concerns.”

Sustainable leadership

One of ecostore’s biggest recent milestones in sustainable packaging has been the Carbon Capture Pak used across its range. The bottle is made from renewable sugarcane plastic that helps reduce your carbon footprint and is 100 per cent recyclable.

“We’re proud our brand is recognised for helping the planet and we want our leadership in sustainable packaging to inspire other companies in Australia and globally to build it into the way they do business,” Rands says. “Winning sustainability awards for our Carbon Capture Pak has also enhanced the reputation of our brand not just among customers, but also among suppliers and peers.”

A newer brand that sets itself apart from its competitors is condom manufacturer, Big Richard, founded by Lloyd Perry only a few years ago with a firm belief that a sustainable model addresses a gap in the market and will disrupt the industry’s big players.

“There are only three or four major brands who have held major positions in the market and Perry wants to really shake things up,” Big Richard’s marketing manager, Leena Beker, says. “The industry hasn’t seen many disruptors coming in that our sort of ethical model.”

According to Beker, the brand’s ethically sourced biodegradable packaging and 100 per cent natural rubber processes will also connect better with today’s environmentally-savvy millennials.

“I think millennials are growing up knowing they can choose products in line with their values and are actively seek out those brands that are taking sustainability seriously,” she claims. “We feel it’s really important for our brand to speak to millennials, as they’re becoming more and more eco focused. Sustainability is part of our philosophy and we’re going to do it for as long as it makes economic sense.”

ecostore's CEO and co-founder, Malcolm Rands, says customers value the company's transparent and sustainable supply chain
ecostore's CEO and co-founder, Malcolm Rands, says customers value the company's transparent and sustainable supply chain

Stripping it bare in beauty and skincare

With cosmetic packaging accounting for nearly half of the world’s landfill mass, more and more beauty brands are becoming strategic in their sustainable practices.

“A staggering 70 per cent of cosmetics packaging ends up in landfills that aren’t even fully used, often because the wrong product was ordered,” Adorn Cosmetics’ founder, Briony Kennedy, says. “Adorn is proudly one of very few brands globally in the $500 billion cosmetic industry, that offers a sampling program, which allows testing of products first before committing to the full size, solving the problem of unfinished products ending up in landfills all over the world.”

According to Kennedy, the brand has led the way innovating sustainable initiatives to reduce the cosmetic industry's carbon footprint and protect the planet since its inception in 2009. It also became the first beauty brand globally to offer ecoluxe refills, directly reducing the amount of packaging that ends up in landfill each year.

“We’ve taken all available steps to make women proud to choose Adorn Cosmetics, from pioneering eco refills, to sustainable packaging, not using excess outer boxes that just end up in landfill, and providing samples so customers can try before they buy,” she explains. “Adorners are eagerly encouraged to recycle their beautiful Adorn pots with refills, saving the environment while also saving money.”

LUSH cosmetics also prides itself in leading the way as a sustainable brand, with Peta Granger highlighting the ‘stripped back’ look of a sustainable product a signature BRAND look that sets it apart while adding value to a customer’s instore experience.

“We have stripped away the packaging and put larger numbers of highly knowledgeable staff on the shop floor, to bring back the art of conversation and specialised service,” she says. “We constantly strive to invent products with little need for packaging and sell more than 100 products naked – which means unpackaged– so customers can pick them up and put in a paper bag or their own bag.

“Naked products are all solid and include bath bombs, massage bars, solid hair care and skin care bars. LUSH also pioneered the solid shampoo bar which requires no packaging at all and lasts up to 80 washes, replacing 3 bottles of 250ml plastic. Negating the existence of plastic in our products, effectively lessens our contribution to landfill.”

LUSH's stripped back 'naked' sustainable product displays enhance the inshore customer experience, director Peta Granger says
LUSH's stripped back 'naked' sustainable product displays enhance the inshore customer experience, director Peta Granger says

According to Granger, LUSH is transparent about everything it does and is a shining example that it’s possible to be both a sustainable and profitable business.

“Sustainability is about looking more broadly than the impact of what you’re doing in the moment and instead look at what we can be doing to re-generate and repair the damage we’ve done from exploiting land, people and resources over the last 100 years,” she says. “We try to apply this kind of thinking to all our decision making and plans for the future.”

Another cosmetics brand using minimal box-free packaging, recyclable containers and ethically sourced ingredients, is Indah. Its founder, Teisha Lowry, is also an official ambassador for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Association, a role which sees her actively campaign against the widespread use of unsustainable Palm Oil in beauty, personal care, food and household products

She says it’s not just about stripping back the packaging, but also about cutting out the ‘marketing nonsense’ in the cosmetic industry.

“Our consumer is the most important member of our community and we always aim to give them an unforgettable experience from start to after sales care,” she says. “But over the last few years, we have come to recognise that our customer is inundated with more and more beauty brands and products targeted at problems we didn’t even know we had.

“So we do not deluge with marketing nonsense – it’s about simplicity and making room for more of what matters. Most of our products are double duty, which simplifies your beauty regime and your life.

“There’s so much mistrust among consumers about what brands are really doing, but we lay it all out there and practice what we preach. Indah is bare and real and our customers know what they’re getting and they love that. They know they’ve purchased a product from a brand that really cares. That feeling they get is invaluable and makes them feel much closer to the brand.”

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