Sustainability v's cost & convenience

Sustainability certainly seems to be putting marketers between a rock and a hard place.

There’s a perception that customers (whether B2B or B2C) are increasingly only wanting to purchase from businesses who are making a concerted effort in ensuring their products and services have eco credentials. Marketers are therefore working hard to ensure their brand message is ticking all the boxes to please the customer.

(Although, I’d like to think, in most cases, businesses are genuinely wanting to make the way they operate their business generally more sustainable for their own benefit, not just a box ticking exercise to satisfy customers!)

Yet, there are associated costs with making products and services more sustainable, which can put a tight squeeze on marketing budgets. But does this perception of needing to be eco friendly actually match the reality of consumer habits?

Apparently not according to recent research (from YouGov) cited in this article. Of 10,000 peope surveyed, 81% see themselves as eco-friendly consumers but just 50% say they only buy products from brands that try to be eco-friendly.

Furthermore, 92% of respondents believe the way we treat our planet now will have a large impact on the future but only 48% say that although they know they should care more about the environment through their purchasing habits, convenience takes priority.

And that seems to be the problem. We all want to save our planet but to what level is our commitment, when the trade-off is cost and convenience?

As a print and direct mail company, we work with a lot of marketers. Despite the misconception that our industry is industry is damaging to the environment, we’ve been keen to invest in new technology that allows us to offer more sustainable solutions to the services we provide. This is for two main reasons:

  1. Because, as a company and as individuals, we do genuinely care about the world we live in
  2. Because we care about our customers and we want to be able to offer them choices

We can’t hide the fact that there is a cost implication to the more sustainable print and mail options. We frequently have the conversation with marketers who want to switch to the more sustainable solutions but their budget simply doesn’t allow.

One conversation in particular sums this dilemma up. For one of our charity clients we mail out a catalogue to over 40,000 people. Of these, two people complained that the catalogue is mailed in clear poly wrap. Therefore, the charity worried that they were going to lose supporters, which prompted them to readdress the image the clear poly is portraying. To mail this many catalogues in one of the more sustainable methods would have a knock-on effect on cost. This then creates the dilemma over how charity is best spending their money. And is it right that they increase their spending as a result of trying to please a small percentage of their supporters?

Fortunately, there was a simple solution to this problem. The clear poly we use is actually recyclable, but public perception just assumes it’s not and it’s going to end up being washed up on a coastline somewhere far away. Unfortunately, not many local authorities will collect film in kerbside recycling bins. Luckily for us, Peterborough City Council are one of just 10% in the country that will. Everywhere else, it must be taken to a large recycling centre, often found at larger supermarkets (where carrier bags can also be recycled). So, the solution was to print a large, clear message on the catalogue, informing supporters how to best dispose of the waste.

We’re not condoning the use of single use plastic, but it goes to show that clear communication can help to better education consumers.

Moving forward, environmental issues are a global concern than we all need to act on. Regardless of whether or not consumers consciously seek to purchase from eco friendly brands, we, as suppliers, must continue to offer solutions to best protect our environment. Hopefully, as demand increases, it will help drive prices down to avoid the dilemma between sustainability and cost/convenience.

'Marketers need to show consumers they don’t need to choose between sustainability and convenience' - Marketing Week 26.02.20