Sustainability Is Here to Stay
Feeling the pinch of inflation, and under the shadow of a potential recession, experts expect consumers will focus more on value in 2023. In response, brands may be tempted to fine-tune their loyalty programs to put a greater emphasis on short-term discounts and promotions.
Factoring in the long view, however, brands need to remember that loyalty isn’t about deals and promo codes. It’s built on trust, shared values, and relationships. Despite inflation, consumers are still willing to pay for sustainable goods—evidence that sustainability remains a consideration for purchase decisions even in leaner economic times.
Sustainability will likely only grow as a top concern for consumers. Don’t neglect its appeal in response to short-term financial factors. Because customer loyalty grows over time—fed by long-term strategies and meaningful connections with your customers—sustainability should be a part of your plan to create and maintain positive and lasting goodwill among your consumers. Here are four ways to do it.
Define and live your values
Discover and articulate your company’s values related to sustainability and ensure those values are reflected at all levels of the organization. Sustainability practices and goals will be unique to every company. If your organization hasn’t yet identified opportunities for, and defined your commitments to, sustainability, now is the time.
It might mean sourcing more sustainable supply chain partners, redesigning packaging, implementing a plan to offset carbon emissions, joining industry councils or coalitions advocating for sustainability practices, or corporate giving to environmental causes, the first step to leveraging sustainability as a loyalty tactic is to be clear about what your organization stands for and be transparent about how your company will deliver on those values.
If your organization already has well-defined sustainability goals, ensure they’re clearly and frequently communicated to employees at all levels. Provide the necessary knowledge and resources to empower employees to put sustainability efforts into practice on a day-to-day basis.
One brand that has cultivated a loyal customer base by consistently living its values is Patagonia. The clothing company’s commitment to sustainability and environmental causes is a core element of its branding, and not just for show. The company’s Worn Wear program allows customers to trade in and buy previously worn Patagonia gear, and its Action Works initiative connects individuals with environmental advocacy groups in their communities. Patagonia also donates 1% of daily sales, and 100% of Black Friday sales, to environmental causes.
Set metrics and be transparent
Establishing metrics for sustainability goals and communicating to stakeholders when you reach them—or being transparent when you don’t—is critical. Make your sustainability goals—and the yardstick used to evaluate their success—a part of your ongoing communication to customers and loyalty members.
Grove Collaborative, the household and personal care brand, features a set of clearly defined and measurable sustainability goals across their sales and marketing platforms. The company is already carbon neutral thanks to agreements with Optera and Natural Capital Partners to offset the carbon footprint of their direct emissions. They’re working to further reduce emissions with a goal of reaching net zero by 2030. The company also aims to be 100% plastic free by 2025. The brand has recently announced Drew Barrymore as the brand’s first Global Brand and Sustainability Advocate—increasing visibility for their sustainability goals.
Automotive giant Ford is investing in the largest, most efficient auto production complex in the company's century-plus history. Called BlueOval City, the site will occupy nearly six square miles in west Tennessee. The historic investment is the company's largest ever, and the goal is delivery of electric vehicles at scale out of an ultra-efficient, carbon-neutral manufacturing process. Ford expects 40% to 50% of its global vehicles to be fully electric by 2030. The investment puts the company in a leadership position in a massive sea change for the auto industry—shifting away from fossil fuel consumption. That should appeal in a big way to consumers wary of climate change.
Don’t let fear of not meeting certain sustainability goals prevent you from setting, sharing, and working to achieve them. The key to maintaining customer trust and loyalty when goals aren’t met is transparency. In 2005, Patagonia set the ambitious goal to become a zero-waste company. The company is still working toward that milestone and remains upfront about ongoing efforts to improve sustainability in its production and distribution chains in pursuit of that admirable goal. Customers remain loyal to the brand for its sweeping commitment to sustainability—and its transparency about the process.
Improve sustainability with partnerships
Explore partnerships with brands that can bolster your sustainability efforts, improve your green practices, or benefit your supported charities and organizations.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s partnership with TerraCycle allows customers to conveniently recycle empty beauty containers that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Traditionally difficult-to-recycle packaging from hair care and beauty products can be dropped off in stores or mailed with prepaid envelopes provided at purchase.
Alaska Airlines’s Ever Green program aims to improve the environmental sustainability of business travel. Initially launched as a partnership with Microsoft, Boeing, and Washington State University, the program will expand to include other partners.
McDonald’s Corporation is involved in a variety of partnerships aimed at increasing large-scale sustainability. Along with Starbucks and Closed Loop Partners, the brand is a founding member of the NextGen Consortium, which is tackling single-use food packaging waste at a global level.
Invite your loyalty members to participate
Loyal customers likely share your brand’s commitment to sustainability. Design ways for them to contribute to, and benefit from, your organization’s sustainability efforts with reward program offerings and incentives. In addition to traditional rewards of merchandise, perks, or discounts, offer an option for members to donate reward points to a charity focused on green initiatives. As an added bonus, match a portion of their donated points value to the charity, or offer a special perk or incentive to members who donate.
For example, shoe retailer DSW rewards customers with 50 points for donating a pair of shoes to the Soles4Souls program and allows members to donate their loyalty points to the cause.
If your customers have the option to choose carbon-neutral shipping or other more sustainable options, incentivize and reward them with bonus points or a special perk.
Beauty brand, Kiehl’s rewards customers with a free travel-sized product for every 10 containers they recycle. Deepen relationships with loyalty members and reinforce your shared values by engaging them in your ongoing commitment to sustainability.
Sustainability remains a critical global issue and a driver for purchase decisions. Leverage your brand’s sustainability practices and successes to build long-lasting loyalty with customers.
Stephanie Hoch is senior copywriter for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based data-driven loyalty, experience, and customer engagement agency that has been delivering personalization at scale for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.