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It’s time to give Americans a new alibi

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“Alibi” might not be exactly the right word, but it captures the cover-up of the guilt surrounding consumption very well. The current alibi is recycling. In other words, “I’m not guilty of buying too many things, and it’s not my fault the planet is in danger… I recycle!”

This is really how most of us see it. According to our Pulse 2020 survey which delved into recycling (the full report is available for free here), 76% of Americans say recycling helps them feel better about their purchases. And even though Americans try to reduce the number of single-use plastics they buy because of their main environmental concern – plastics in the ocean – they feel more supportive of brands that increase the amount of recycled content in their stores. packaging.

Our Good Company report (also available for free) tested the general favorability of 12 well-known brands. Then, we highlighted an environmental, social or thematic commitment made by each brand and tested the favorability again. Both brands with a commitment to recycled content have significantly increased favorability. Adidas went from a most favorable rating of 10 percent (in other words, 10 percent of respondents ranked their preference for Adidas as 10 out of 10) to a 17 percent most favorable rating when our investigation revealed that the brand made shoes from the ocean. plastic in partnership with the nonprofit Parlay for the Ocean and has committed to using 100% recycled polyester by 2024.

The current alibi is recycling: “I’m not guilty of buying too many things, and it’s not my fault the planet is in danger… I recycle!

The seventh generation is doing even better. Seven percent of Americans initially rated their preference as 10 out of 10. And when the survey told them that Seventh Generation is committed to 100 percent of its products and packaging using bio-based or post-consumer recycled content by 2020, 18 percent of our survey respondents gave at the mark a 10 out of 10 on favorability. Thus, Seventh Generation – a brand already anchored in an environmental goal – has more than doubled its favorability rating simply because of a commitment to recycled or biobased content.

Disproportionate impact

I’m not saying “just because” to minimize the effort. I applaud him. What I mean is that recycling and recycled content commitments drive favor disproportionately to their environmental impact. Knowing that Apple powers all of its offices and retail stores in China via solar power (climbing up to make sure the yaks can continue to graze) hasn’t changed the favor rating at all. the company. But using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels has a bigger environmental impact than fishing for plastic in the ocean to make shoes.

But the emotional impact of reusing ocean plastics is far greater. When one of us sees a ring of six strangling the misshapen body of a poor turtle or a plastic bag wrapped precariously around the neck of a pretty sea otter or soda bottle caps in the belly of a once majestic but now dead bird, we feel like an accomplice in crime. “It could be my soda bottle stopper,” we say to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, and we look for an alibi. Today, this alibi is recycled.

Given all of this, it makes sense for marketers to tick the recycling box – if you’re a mainstream brand, make sure you have a recycled content story to tell. But we must not stop there. Brands should invest in the other two Rs. Create business models that support reduction and launch packaging and supply chain / system innovations that enable reuse.

Why? Because consumer confidence in the recycling system is starting to crack. In 2019, only 15% of us were “not convinced” that what we put in the recycling bin was actually recycled. In 2020, that number reached 23%.

If our confidence in the recycling system continues to erode, we will all start looking for a new alibi, a new reason not to blame for all the environmental damage we can see with our own eyes. Brands that come up with new solutions – real ways to reduce and reuse materials – will be the winners in the minds and hearts of Americans.

And the real winner, of course, will be the environment.


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