In recent years, it’s been impossible to ignore the steady rise of sustainability across the global agenda. However, in spite of the tireless work of activists and campaigners stretching back decades or more, there remains so much to be done in the fight for sustainable practices across the economy. The stakes couldn’t be higher - based on current trajectories, the planet will come perilously close to passing a temperature rise of 2°C which would wreak havoc on ecosystems and change our world as we know it.
As our access to information has increased, so too have ideas for sustainable solutions. Companies from every industry across the globe are advocating for sustainable choices, with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) funds receiving record inflows and on course to reach $50 trillion by 2025. There’s a growing feeling that people are taking action, and that the case for sustainability is transforming from a buzzword to a fundamental expectation.
Consumer behaviour is rapidly changing across the globe as sustainability is brought to the forefront of the public consciousness. Consumers have become increasingly more aware of their buying habits, and this trend is particularly pronounced amongst younger generations who are becoming key demographics of global consumption.
Buyers are looking more closely at how brands operate - from manufacturing to marketing - before making a decision to purchase, and advancements in technology mean consumers can look into which brands are truly sustainable as opposed to those who are simply ‘greenwashing’. Customers want brands to have a purpose and demonstrate transparency, making a concerted effort to become as sustainable as possible.
VEJA, the French fair-trade footwear brand, is one such company. By demonstrating transparency across their chain of processes, VEJA has built a reputation based on eco-friendly solutions to fast fashion. It costs the company an estimated five to seven times more to create their products in a socially, environmentally-sound way, due to the raw materials and fair-trade principles VEJA uphold. However, their commitment to sustainable practice has helped the brand grow a rapidly expanding base of loyal customers. Investing their money into a wholly sustainable production process, reducing extra marketing costs and maintaining competitive pricing, has led VEJA to become one of the most in-demand fashion brands in the niche sustainable footwear market.
Garnier Green's Beauty Initiative is another example of realistic change. The initiative aims to make all Garnier products’ packaging recyclable, biodegradable, or reusable by 2025, collecting all of their plant and renewable resources from sustainable sources. In addition to this, all of their factories are projected to be CO2 neutral by then too.
Companies across the world are demonstrating similar principles and changing how they operate - but what is the advertising industry doing differently?
The cultural shift in consumers’ perception of the importance of sustainability has forced the advertising industry to pay attention, act, and adapt. Both production processes and the content at the heart of advertising has changed in response to this worldwide shift.
Brands Questioning Consumerism
The content of an ad is the main way companies can broach the subject of sustainability, communicating their efforts to be a greenbrand to their consumers. By highlighting this in their ads, brands are able to set themselves apart from competitors. It tends to be even more important for brands to highlight their sustainability over their pricing, demonstrating how they are not following a trend but rather advocating for an important movement that benefits the wellbeing of the planet’s natural resources.
Levi’s Buy Better, Wear Longer campaign stresses the importance of sustainability over pricing. The campaign targets the environmental damages from over production and consumption of apparel. It is better for the environment to spend the money to purchase fewer, higher quality products that will give more use.
Similarly, Patagonia’s Don't Buy This Jacket campaign targets mass consumption and lightening the environmental footprint. They are striving to make consumers think twice before purchasing and making environmentally conscious choices. As part of Patagonia’s mission is to implement solutions to environmental challenges, there is a big focus on the damages that over-consumption causes. The campaign aims to inspire conscious consumers that will purchase a few high quality and sustainable products as opposed to a plethora of cheaper alternatives.
The process of creating ads is also changing, as companies attempt to reduce waste and minimise their carbon footprint as much as possible by going digital. Despite this, many companies are still generating a great deal of waste. Production companies are responsible for thousands of tonnes of waste, and consumers are more aware of this than ever before. Increasingly, there is pressure on these companies to make changes.
Many new policies are being put in place in regards to sustainability, with companies trying to get ahead of the curve and demonstrate their sustainability practices before it becomes a policy they need to follow. These practices include reducing the amount of waste and carbon produced by donating excess food to homeless shelters, creating sets out of recycled materials, reducing the amount of journeys between set locations, and paying more attention to the way they are recycling and discarding their rubbish. Remote Filming is working to reduce the excess carbon emissions from production. The remote streaming services they provide for the production industry eliminate extra travelling, reducing production companies' carbon footprint immensely.
Elsewhere, the industry is attempting to limit the use of paper goods and all excess waste that comes from mass producing advertisements. With new cutting edge technologies, ads can be completely digital in many creative ways. All being well, that creativity will help them differentiate from their competitors and gain the extra edge.
The increased importance of sustainability is taking the world by storm, forcing not only society to evolve but seeing the creative industry re-evaluate its own cultural role. Consumers are more conscious of their purchases. As a result, businesses will have to adapt not only to be able to compete with their competitors - but to help create a better environment for us all.