March 2023

Sustainable Commerce Strategy: A Commonsense Lens on Sustainability

Sustainability and shopper marketing are two powerful forces in the modern retail landscape. As consumer interest in sustainability continues to grow, brands are turning to shopper marketing to help them meet their sustainability goals. With a deeper understanding of the intersection between sustainability and shopper marketing, brands can gain a competitive edge and create an emotional bond with their customers.

This article will explore best practices for brands looking to maximize the potential of both sustainability and shopper marketing to ensure their campaigns are effective, engaging and have positive impact on the bottom line.

Why is Tracy-Locke talking about Sustainable Commerce?

  1. Awareness. Tracy-Locke has the tools to understand how to effectively educate consumers.
  2. Engagement. Tracy-Locke understands the retailer, brand and shopper tensions that drive to consideration.
  3. Conversion. Tracy-Locke is in the position to help influence sustainable messaging at point of sale.

$178 Trillion = Cost of Inaction

The cost of inaction on climate change could be as high as $178 Trillion (US Dollars) for the global economy by 2070. The price of inaction is too high.

According to the Deloitte Center for Sustainable Progress report, “[The] toll on human lives could be significant—disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable; leading to loss of productivity and employment, food and water scarcity, and worsening health and well-being; and ushering in an overall lower standard of living globally[1].”

Shoppers Expect Brands to Act.

The majority of shoppers want brands and companies to do more to support sustainable efforts. 89% of shoppers say that companies and brands should do a lot more to reduce their carbon impact[2].

84% of shoppers say that sustainability is important when they are making their purchase decisions[3].

According to EY Future Consumer Index, 61% of shoppers want more information to help them make better sustainable choices[4]. Consumers are looking for guidance from the brands and companies that they trust.

The Intention-Action Gap

Consumers say they want more sustainable products, yet they don’t consistently buy them. Why? Because the effort required to buy these products sometimes outweighs the perceived benefits. This creates the intention-action gap. Narrowing the intention-action gap is important not just for meeting corporate sustainability goals, but it also is important for the planet and future generations of consumers.

There are many examples of the intention-action gap where consumers did not buy the proffered low carbon footprint product and instead chose goods and services that were cheaper or more convenient.

88% of Generation X consumers said they would be willing to spend an extra 10% or more for sustainable products in the EY Consumer Index[5].  However, only 20% check sustainability claims made on packaging or in advertising[6].

Sustainability Can be Complex for Shoppers.

While in the nascent stage of sustainability efforts, some shoppers are overwhelmed by the claims for products.

1 in 4 shoppers say that the most important product selection features are from retailers that “offer a selection of products free of harmful or synthetic materials (e.g., pesticides, dyes, food additives).[7]

18% of shoppers consider products with sustainable packaging an “extremely important” feature. Locally sourced products are “extremely important” for 16% of consumers.

The ability to digitally search for sustainability tags and filter products for sustainability is ‘extremely important’ to 14% of consumers. This indicates that there is an opportunity to decrease search friction for sustainable products with SEO and feature tagging by both brands and retailers.

The Many Dimensions of Sustainability

As brands and retailers consider how they participate in the movement for sustainable long-term growth, they should consider the not only the environmental impact, but also economic and social impacts.

  • Environment is what often comes to mind when thinking about sustainability. Global climate change, natural resource depletion, habitat destruction, and human health concern are common environmental elements.
  • Social sustainability is dedicated to identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. Issues about improving the quality of life, reducing inequality, cultural sustainability and helping people make better choices about their health, education, and work.
  • Economic sustainability refers to balancing economic growth and generating profit with the impact on the environment and people. Business ethics, economic development, competitiveness, living standards, and community investment are examples of economic sustainability.

In addition to the three dimensions, there is overlap between multiple dimensions. The Venn diagram below shows how the overlap between environmental, social, and economic sustainability can manifest in the marketplace.

The following five key principles can increase the efficacy of sustainable commerce:

  1. 1. Use Marketing Influence for Good
  2. 2. Responsible Commerce is Fundamental
  3. 3. Sustainability is Table Stakes
  4. 4. Guide Shoppers to Buy Better, Not Buy More
  5. 5. Nudge Shoppers to Make Better Purchases

Principle #1: Use Marketing Influence for Good

Principle #2: Responsible Commerce is Fundamental

Principle #3: Sustainability is Table Stakes

Sustainability is now a standard expectation, especially with younger shoppers. Generation Z is influencing the older generations to place more importance on sustainability in their purchasing decisions[12].

Additionally, all generations are willing to pay more for sustainable products compared to 2019[13].

Principle #4: Guide Shoppers to Buy Better, Not Buy More

Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends[14].

  • – 103 is the average articles of clothing owned by women in the U.S.
  • – 81 pounds of clothes are thrown away by an average U.S. consumer
  • – $134 is the average amount a U.S. household spends on clothes every month
  • – 20% of the global waste is produced by fast fashion

Principle #5: Nudge Shoppers to Make Better Purchases

“Nudges” are simple, low-cost interventions that can alter people’s decision-making without attaching a substantial economic reward or penalty to the process.

As consumers increasingly demand more environmentally and socially conscious choices, nudges can nurture and facilitate their desire to live sustainably, accelerating demand for sustainable products and services.

Companies already shape behaviors, so they can encourage environmentally and socially conscious behaviors as well.

DISSOLVE is an example of product innovation in SC Johnson’s efforts to help create a waste-free world. They have eliminated more than 6.1 million kilograms of unnecessary or problematic plastic packaging since 2018. SCJ has made 100% of plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable.

Sustainable Commerce Action Plan.

Tracy-Locke has identified five steps to include in a retailer or brand planning process to ensure that sustainable commerce is most effective.

  1. 1 – Path to Purchase: Find areas in the shopper journey where you can educate consumers about your ownable sustainability initiatives.
  2. 2 – Point of Difference: Highlight your differences from competitors in a way that influences the consideration and conversion for your consumers.
  3. 3 – Add To Consideration: Leverage shopper insights to create meaningful sustainability messages that will drive awareness, consideration, and conversion.
  4. 3 – Retailer Added Value: Identify how your sustainability programs dovetail with key retailer initiatives to build scale and share of voice.
  5. 5 – Shopper-Friendly Language: Develop messaging to help nudge shoppers to sustainable behavior.

In closing, brands and retailers can build loyalty and reputation responsibly by using shopper marketing and principles for sustainability.

[1] Deloitte Center For Sustainable Progress Report – May 2022.

[2] E-Marketer Dec 2021

[3] E-Marketer Dec 2021

[4] EY Future Consumer Index — 2021

[5] EY Future Consumer Index — 2021

[6] Sustainability Report Compendium, Wharton School, 2022

[7] Insider Intelligence, “U.S. Retail Sustainability Perceptions Benchmark 2022,” August 2022

[8] Ben & Jerry’s

[9] HubSpot

[10] U.S. Department of Energy

[11] Panera Bread

[12] Sustainability Report Compendium, Wharton School, 2022

[13] Sustainability Report Compendium, Wharton School, 2022

[14] WBL – Fast Fashion Statistics

[15] Good Trade