After looking back on the 50 years of “green marketing”, Landor Associates’ Chief Strategy Officer, Russ Meyers, will outline what the future holds through trends in sustainability.
In this series, we’ve looked at the history of green brands and marketing over the past 50 years—from cars without air bags in the 1960s to cars without combustion engines in 2010. What was considered impossible in 1960 is now second nature when it comes to sustainability. But if sustainable living is a journey and not a destination, where are we headed from here? It’s a question my clients ask most frequently: What’s next?
It’s a fool’s game to try to predict the future because, as we know, predictions often don’t turn out the way we expect them to. In this last part of the series, rather than attempt the impossible, I’ve tried to capture five sustainability trends that I believe will be important over the next 20 years.
Less brand advantage will be gained from sustainability. This first trend may seem counterintuitive. If consumers are increasingly interested in sustainability, how can sustainability provide less brand advantage? Brand advantage comes from two characteristics: relevance and differentiation. And although sustainability is becoming more relevant to all stakeholders, differentiation is going to be the challenge. As more and more brands become sustainable, they lose the ability to use that for differentiation. In fact, some recent studies seem to indicate that as the number of sustainable brands in a category increases, brands that are not sustainable are penalized more than the sustainable brands benefit. But there is a silver lining here. Most categories have not yet reached this stage. For brands that are willing to be daring, now is the time to gain the sustainable advantage—before it evaporates in their category.
Immediate feedback will change behavior. One reason people may not engage in sustainable practices is because they don’t know which behaviors support sustainability. The feedback systems that help us make more sustainable choices are inadequate. But things are changing. One need only look at Prius drivers to see how information can change behavior. Although the Prius reportedly gets 50 miles per gallon, some Prius drivers have been able to more than double that figure by using data from the car’s energy monitor screen to learn techniques for braking and accelerating. Studies have indicated similar lessons from recently installed smart meters for home energy. Simply having the immediate feedback and instantaneous information has led people to reduce their energy usage. As more and more products provide immediate measurable feedback, consumers will find it easier to do the right thing and behave more sustainably.
Sustainability will be driven by community. Most news regarding sustainability in the past 10 years has been about either the individual consumer or corporate behavior. Recently, gains in sustainability have been achieved through cooperation. From the online community CauseWorld, where karma points are put to use doing good deeds, to community-based solar panel purchasing in Arizona, green consumers are finding power in coordinating with other like-minded consumers. This community effect can also be seen with corporations—those such as Walmart are setting their own sustainability goals and requiring their partners and suppliers to also get involved.
Life cycle will matter as much as lifestyle. Recycling has been successful at removing tons of materials from the global waste stream. As the concept of cradle–to-cradle design (creating a zero waste stream design system) has become more popular, product designers are beginning to consider not just how to put the products together, but how to take apart and reuse the materials. Over the next 20 years, recycling will become more sophisticated as manufacturers and retailers inject “return, recycle, and reuse” into product production and sales. Best Buy’s foray into electronic recycling and SunChips’ newly introduced compostable chip bag are two examples of this emerging trend.
Even these advances will seem like ”not enough.” If the growth of environmental and sustainability awareness during the past 50 years tells us anything, it’s that enormous improvement can be made over time. Just as we find it amazing that there were no air bags in automobiles 40 years ago, in 40 years time we will be amazed at how far we have yet to go to live sustainability—and how much progress we’ll have made.