Insights 03/06/2021 Tashi Van Der Waerden

5 Principles of Sustainable Innovation & Brand Communication

The swift adaptation of businesses during the pandemic has heightened consumer expectation on environmental action. A recent Wunderman Thompson survey revealed that 75% of people now expect companies to improve their response to climate change having just witnessed how quickly and successfully they can evolve from ‘business as usual’.

Over the last 10 years at Echo, we have been supporting brands with sustainable strategy, innovation and communication. Here are 5 principles that help you to achieve a triple bottom line (people, planet and prosperity).

Worthy appeals to people’s better nature might connect with the eco-warriors, but have never been enough to move the majority. Yes, most people want to do the right thing for the environment, but self-motivation creates a significant intention-action gap. Impact’s Great Green Sustainability 2020 report found that 80% of UK consumers WANT to do more to help the environment, but 75% agree that they COULD do more. Designing in immediate gratification can help people to take more action by aligning personal and planetary benefits.

When light weighting the Axe shower pack we created a new ritual to enhance the overall experience. Material use was reduced by 16% at the same time as engineering the closure to create addictive ergonomics. Designed for teenage boys, the pack is inspired by gaming consoles and provides the tactile satisfaction of opening and closing a zippo lighter. Rather than asking young men to choose Axe for its lighter environmental footprint, we were able to entice them with fiddle factor.

The main barrier to adopting a sustainable lifestyle is lack of interest, according to Deloitte’s 2021 Shifting Sands report. Environmental improvements like energy and carbon savings are often shared in dry, abstract terms which makes it hard to engage. Brands, as makers of meaning, can change this.

Echo worked with a premium Nordic spirit brand to turn the nebulous concept of carbon footprint into something motivating using the power of their brand. First, we designed a range of disruptive new packaging solutions, achieving significant carbon savings through breakthrough materials and optimised formats. Next, we created and tested a range of emotive brand stories that connected the lighter carbon ‘bottles’ with aspirational Nordic values, traditions and icons. The winning idea, ‘Adopt-a-Puffin’, placed a positive frame on the initially polarising pack.

Adorable puffins are innocent victims of global warming. By connecting their plight with making lower carbon choices and supporting a wildlife fund, our audience felt informed and empowered. ‘I’d proudly take that to a party’ asserted the same respondent who moments early remarked that the pack was too modern. A reminder that breaking category codes requires powerful storytelling.

As Malcolm Gladwell sets out in his seminal Tipping Point Theory, we need to identify the most influential consumer group within our market. When we motivate them with a targeted campaign, we can organically recruit their audience in turn.

Since 2018, dozens of major retailers have signed the Plastics Pact, committing to make 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier. This commendable global commitment requires nuanced regional strategy. Working with Danone and their global portfolio of natural mineral water brands, we have developed a flexible framework for innovation and communication in key markets. In Turkey, where it was illegal to use recycled plastic for food and beverage packaging prior to 2018, the population had good reason to distrust 100% rPET. But by building an activation campaign for Generation Alpha, we were able to bypass the older generations who were set in their cynicism. (Interestingly, younger consumers are increasingly the gatekeeper of the family supermarket – holding mum and dad to new standards during the weekly shop.) We designed a series of activations to upcycle used plastic water bottles into football pitches and playgrounds to tangibly demonstrate that recycled plastic has value and its application is only limited by our imagination.

By contrast, the strategy in Western Europe (where recycling practice and brand messaging is high) focused on cutting through the noise with breakthrough technology, intriguing partnerships and covetable packaging design.

While redesigning for sustainability, you can readily address more than one issue to achieve well rounded concepts. This is a chance to go back to the drawing board and identify other consumer pain points or values that can be addressed while baking in sustainability. IBM’s 2020 consumer insight study found that Purpose-driven consumers (40 percent) seek products that align with both their wellbeing and sustainability values. They are willing to pay more for health benefits and to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact.

Working with Smarties in International Travel Retail, we took action on Sustainability and Permissibility simultaneously. We developed well rounded concepts by moving in step with stakeholder pressure and government legislation on both sugar content and recyclability. New brand potential was unlocked through the insight that ‘play is child’s work’ i.e. creative play is essential to happy, healthy child development. Based on this we designed an innovation pipeline of sustainable toys that helped children to slow down and savour the chocolate treat while learning through play.

Entice people to trial new eco-innovations through sensorial design and theatre. Rather than being a compromise, these new brand offers need to be as immersive and pleasurable as the most excessive unboxing! According to Wunderman Thompson’s 2021 survey, 86% of people think that companies should be more inspiring when it comes to sustainability. By delighting people with sound, fragrance and touch we can deliver richer experiences and memories while reducing material use.

Last year we worked as a team to find a more sustainable solution to pocket sized hand sanitiser. We set about designing a durable, refillable alternative that could be placed in major thoroughfares to create a new social norm. Fashioned from naturally antimicrobial copper, The Purgo is a glowing, humming basin that emits a fine, fragrant sanitising mist. The idea was shortlisted for the Bompas & Parr Fountain of Hygiene competition and featured in the London Design Museum and Haw Par Music festival in Hong Kong.

In each principle we place the consumer at the heart of the process. By identifying ways to incentivise the individual, we reveal how to achieve change at scale for the benefit of the planet and business. To discuss another 5 proven sustainable principles, email us at hello@echobranddesign.co.uk.