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Make→Shift is part of TrendWatching's Free Trend Updates. Each monthly issue examines one cross-industry movement no brand can afford to ignore, answering 'why now' and spotlighting the opportunities brands can act on today.
All in a six-minute read.
Jaded by empty virtue signalling and hungry for transparency, tomorrow’s consumers will respect brands that put their values first — literally. We’re talking about meaningful labels. Carbon footprint, workers’ rights, environmental sustainability? Help consumers vote with their money by measuring your brand’s impact and making those results visible on your products and services, in no-nonsense terminology.
Are you ready to wear your heart on your (packaging) sleeve?
Check out the audio version here ➜
It isn't easy for purpose-driven consumers to separate genuinely ‘good’ brands from sneaky PR pranksters. We're living in an era of overwhelm — so much choice, so many brands, so many hollow marketing messages. And instant gratification (no matter the ramifications) is only a swipe away. Rather than add to that overwhelm, curate with labels to help people find true value. In Sweden, for example, a pilot carbon labeling scheme saw consumers pick products that were 25% less polluting than they previously did.
Surprised? Nope, neither are we. According to a recent survey, over half of consumers in 16 countries believe they have the collective power to help halt climate change. Consumers are adopting the tactics of soft activism by viewing each of their purchasing decisions as a vote for a better world. Don’t just take our word for it: across the globe, 79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness and environmental impact.
Mega-brands like Unilever might be devising their own labeling schemes, but outsiders are keeping score, too. Some brands have third-party impact tracking built into their services, giving consumers the inside scoop on their purchases. Case in point: Klarna, the Buy Now Pay Later firm (with over 90 million users worldwide), has an integrated carbon tracker which estimates a product’s footprint from production to delivery at a shopper’s front door. The key takeaway here? Label or get labeled.
HEALabel is a free app, launched in June 2021, which quickly estimates a product’s social and environmental impact. Users simply search the ingredients, materials or country of origin listed on a product’s packaging and the app provides a rough snapshot of how the item might impact a user’s health, the environment, animals and laborers (hence the name). HEALabel is based in LA but is available to conscious consumers across the globe.
The online grocery app GreenChoice has used data collated from NGOs and third-party certifiers to apply food ratings to 350,000 consumer products found at big-name brands like Walmart and Whole Foods. Since April 2021, app users have been able to filter products based on over 90 different food preferences and personal values — palm oil-free, low water footprint and organic, to name three. The cherry on top? GreenChoice offsets each order's carbon emissions.
Google and WWF Sweden are teaming up to help fashion industry insiders source more sustainable fabrics. In June 2021, the duo announced a new environmental data tracking platform that will use Google Cloud’s big data analysis and WWF’s expertise in raw materials to rate textiles with environmental scores, referencing each step in a fabric's supply chain. The platform will be open source so brands can weed out dubious manufacturers early on in the design process.
Foundation Earth is a food labeling scheme established in June 2021 with the intention of helping consumers better understand the environmental impact of their dietary choices. Scores take into consideration the farming, processing, packaging and transport of a product and are color-coded using a traffic light system. The UK-based initiative is soft-launching in Q4 2021, with plans for a Europe-wide rollout in 2022.
Since April 2021, Singapore-based SaladStop has been listing the carbon emissions of its meals, making it the first restaurant chain in Asia to do so. The labels are displayed on menus and take into account factors like farming practices, land usage and water waste. In addition to carbon labels, SaladStop has launched a partnership with conservation charity HandPrint, giving consumers the option of offsetting their meals at checkout.
Carbonfact is on a mission to provide consumers with carbon footprints for every product in existence. After launching in July 2021, the France-based platform started with sneakers. It analyzed manufacturers’ sustainability reports, estimated a shoe's carbon emissions and posted the results online. The company hopes brands will use the platform to share their own data, turning Carbonfact into a must-visit destination for carbon-curious consumers.
Don’t bury your labels in smallprint! Earn the respect of conscious consumers — and make their lives easier — by designing labels that are impossible to avoid, and by placing them in clear view. There’s no point in confusing people with complicated terminology either: figure out a system that consumers can instantly understand. One great example? Cocokind. Each of the skincare brand’s products is stamped with a label that outlines its impact across four lifecycles, from sourcing through to disposal, along with granular breakdowns of exactly which product components are recyclable.
As consumers try to reach their own ethical benchmarks, they’ll empathize with brands that are doing the same. Take strength in your vulnerability. Consumers don’t expect brands to be perfect, but they do expect full transparency. Over 60% of UK consumers value brands that are transparent about their operations, celebrating progress over perfection. Labels aren’t about one-upping your competitors, but demonstrating a commitment to progress — whether you’re new to the game or a well-seasoned pro.
Prove your transparency by inviting a third party, like Good on You, to score and label your products. There’s a double-win to be had here. Not only will you earn consumer trust, but the process might help uncover blind spots in your supply chain that need cleaning up. Or, step it up a gear. Do like Allbirds and make your brand an authority in product transparency by setting up your own product-testing scheme. Who knows? Cause enough of a stir and your efforts might nudge governments over the greener side of the fence.
Check out the Carbon Literacy Project. Learn how to limit your brand’s carbon footprint by enrolling in its day-long course.
Start researching which third-party labeling services already exist for your industry. Gather tips on designing your own system.
Read this book about the decolonization of commercial farming in Aotearoa. Use it as a springboard for a broader discussion on sourcing.
Get clued up on how other brands — including those that provide services, like Twitter — are already dabbling in LABEL-LED initiatives.
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From "The Fight for Facts" to the new "Hands Off" economy, our previous Make→Shift issues provide a cornucopia of purpose-driven insights, plus actions you can take on the trends that matter.