Sustainability trends brands can expect in 2020

Ben King

Ben is Finder’s corporate social responsibility manager and is currently based in the Sydney office. Before joining Finder he worked for a sustainability consultancy in London with some of the biggest companies in the UK including Virgin Media, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Coca-Cola.

Marketers have made strides this year in sustainability with the number of brands rallying behind the Not Business As Usual alliance for action against climate change being a sign of the times. While sustainability efforts have gained momentum this year, 2020 is shaping up to be the year brands are really held accountable for their work in this area.   

So what will sustainability look like in 2020? And what are the trends brands need to prepare for? Here are my predictions.   

Gen Z becomes an economic force for good   

Those in gen Z were born between 1997 and 2012. This means that in 2020, some of them will be turning 23. That’s right, the generation younger than millennials is starting to leave school, get jobs and is set to be a growing force in the Australian economy.   

We also know this is the most sustainable generation to date. This isn’t so surprising when you consider it’s the generation behind the school strikes, but Finder’s Consumer Sentiment Tracker puts it beyond doubt. Fifty-four per cent of Australians in gen Z think a company’s social/environmental efforts are ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ when considering whether to purchase a product or service. Millennials aren’t far behind at 48 per cent, but baby boomers are way behind on this front with just 24 per cent seeing a company’s impact as important.  

In 2020, this demographic will be hard to ignore for brands in Australia. Companies will need to prepare for a world where sustainable brands are mainstream and a savvy, digital-first customer is ready to cut through any attempts at greenwashing.     

From anti-plastic to anti-packaging  

2019 was the year when anti-plastic sentiment went mainstream. Finder’s Consumer Sentiment Tracker asked over 8000 Australians what they have done to reduce their environmental impact and 64 per cent said reducing plastic usage was a big focus for them. This was by far the most popular option on the list with coffee cups, straws and plastic bags being the main target.   

At the same time, 2019 was the year when countries like China and Indonesia shut their doors to waste from countries like Australia. This was an outlet Australia relied on and the country isn’t set up to recycle its own waste cost-effectively. This will start to change in 2020 and the announcement of $100 million of government funding in recycling facilities will be welcomed with open arms. Yet change will be slow.   

As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if 2020 was the year Australians wake up to the issues with our recycling system and that this could turn anti-plastic sentiment into a broader anti-packaging movement. Switching to cardboard packaging won’t be enough for brands if a customer knows the waste in their paper waste stream doesn’t get recycled. It could be time for brands to explore circular packaging options like the ‘Loop’ trial Woolworths announced recently.     

Green at the point-of-sale   

In a world where consumers are hyper aware of the climate emergency, more and more brands are realising that they need to compete on their ‘green’ credentials. For some brands, this becomes part of their unique selling proposition (USP) that differentiates them from competitors.   

The problem is there is now almost too much noise in this space. We’ve received reams of press releases this year announcing renewable energy agreements, movements to recycled packaging and partnerships with environmental charities. These moves are done with the best of intentions but with so many things to consider it can be hard to quantify for consumers.   

2020 could be the year when brands need to provide clarity on their green credentials at the point-of-sale. One way to achieve this is through external accreditations. The B-Corp movement is a key example of best practice here as a stamp of approval that is growing in awareness and clearly shows consumers that they’re buying from a company that’s taking its impact on the world seriously.  

In 2020, we also plan to do our bit in this space. We recently launched our Finder Green Awards to take an objective look at categories we compare like insurance, banking and superannuation to find the providers that are doing the most for the planet.   

Consumers want guidance and 2020 will be the year when external trust marks will become hard to ignore for brands who want to compete on social or environmental impact.

The rise and rise of plant-based eating  

It’s no secret agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions around the world and we’ve already seen a swathe of consumers starting to favour plant-based diets. Over 12 per cent of Australians reported they are vegetarian and many more are adopting a ‘flexitarian’ diet where they proactively reduce their meat intake.    

For brands in the food and beverage industry, this means adding vegetarian and vegan alternatives to the menu. Globally, we saw this happening in 2019. In the UK, Gregg’s vegan sausage rolls boosted profits, while Pret a Manger opened multiple vegetarian-only sandwich shops following a successful trial in London. In the US, the ‘Impossible whopper’ meatless burger has been a hit and Australian sister, Hungry Jacks, followed suit in recent months.  

In 2020, we’ll see more brands following suit and we’re likely to see the rise of the ‘meatless meat’. Not only does this serve a growing vegetarian audience, it also creates a good PR angle with backlash and love in equal measures. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?   

So there you have it. Influential generation Z, circular packaging, green accreditations and meatless meat are my predictions for sustainability trends in 2020. As a marketer, what’s on your radar that I’m forgetting?  

Tags: sustainability, Finder, marketing strategy

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