In an increasingly eco-conscious market, brands must guard against simply paying lip service to environmental commitments and expectations in order to be taken seriously by the modern consumer and to continue to attract its custom.
This is the advice from ecologists and climatologists, whose guidance is being increasingly sought by brands, keen to ensure that they do not lose touch with their consumers' expectations and values.
Brands simply cannot afford to deprioritise sustainability and ecology. It is that much of a priority for the consumer that a lack of engagement and commitment could lead to brand defection and, given the crippling impact of the various lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 upon the retail sector, failing to elevate those issues on the agenda is not a risk a brand should take lightly.
It is more than just placing the issue on the agenda, however; the discerning consumer does not see environmental commitment as a basic tick box exercise.
Tree planting is the latest and seemingly very popular promise being offered by brands in order to entice purchasing - the "buy one, get one tree" initiative being the latest pledge made to customers of craft brewer BrewDog, who are working with the Eden Project to ensure that for every multipack of beer purchased in 2021 a tree is planted in Madagascar. A wholly commendable initiative and through which BrewDog aims to eliminate its direct emissions and those from the energy it uses by August 2023.
Researchers have warned, however, of the pitfalls of some planting schemes and the lack of rigour with which some brands evaluate the schemes and their impact. For instance, some schemes have been found to operate poor practices thereby wasting valuable land through disorganised planting; others create monocultures or introduce invasive species (which are often cheaper and easier to plant), ultimately leading to an unsustainable ecosystem.
A brand must also consider its wider activity beyond a planting scheme and be transparent about it: if companies are doing little to address their emissions, a commitment to planting "becomes questionable", was the advice of one environmental disclosure organisation. And rightly so. The eco-savvy consumer will soon spot the difference between a brand on a marketing drive and a brand with a desire to improve the environment which can also be used for marketing.
Ultimately, as the linked article notes, the world is still losing more forest each year than it gains. So whilst responsible planting is crucial to the global ecosystem, it should not be done at the cost of neglecting the trees we already have. A brand which does not heed these warnings, does so at its peril.
Under rising pressure to demonstrate their green credentials to consumers, and make progress towards net zero emissions promises, company commitments are turning increasingly creative — as well as becoming marketing opportunities.