Modern-day consumers are smarter than ever before when it comes to understanding the environmental impact of our actions and are increasingly cynical of big business’ marketing campaigns that claim to benefit the environment. Statements such as ‘Go Green, Go Paperless’, ‘Save Trees’ or ‘natural’ are a few that have been circling around for the past couple of years. As consumers’ concerns about the environment grow, a change in consumer behaviour has occurred simultaneously, leaving consumers more educated and skeptical of greenwashing statements.
According to the June 2017 Toluna survey, 68 per cent of consumers agreed that when they are told that switching from paper bills or statements to digital is ‘better for the environment’, they think it is because the company wants to save money. Furthermore, 69 per cent agreed government, banks and other organisations persuade consumers to ‘Go Paperless’, but it’s not paperless because they regularly have to print out documents at home if they want a hard copy.
It is more critical now than ever for brands to ensure their environmental initiatives stand up to rigor with verifiable science to support their claims. Smoke and mirrors are no longer acceptable.
The most recent exploration into this issue is the ban on single-use plastic bags. Supermarket giants are taking important environmental action around Australia and as a result, are also faced with the challenge of meeting the demands of the modern-day consumer. When implementing environmental programs such as the bag banning, it’s up to companies to provide the full story to ensure their changes are positively impacting the environment and consumers understand what’s involved.
Supermarkets must take on the opportunity for consumer education and not mistake banning the bag to be replaced with a more harmful version. Many Australian households use the single-use plastic bag as a bin liner and with the ban in place, consumers may be compelled to buy commercial bin liners that can produce more damage than the single-use plastic bag. According to Dr. Trevor Thornton from Deakin University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, “replacing shopping bags with heavier, more resource-intensive ones may solve some environmental impacts but exacerbate others.” In 2012, a review of South Australia’s bag ban found prior to the ban 15 per cent of consumers purchased bin liners compared to 80 per cent after – representing a significant leap.
An alternative to the commercial bin liner could be compostable paper bags, or even old newspapers. Wrapping food scraps in paper will allow people to dispose of their rubbish in an environmentally friendly manner. With strong recyclability and being 100 per cent biodegradable, paper is proving to be a positive environmental alternative.
Global initiatives have seen the return of paper bags in replacement of the single-use plastic bags. In Africa, we are seeing this program work with Rwanda banning the single-use plastic bag in 2008 working towards rebuilding Africa as a middle-income nation. Mandatory use of paper bags in place of plastic bags in Rwanda has paid off according to Tom Carver stating, “in Rwanda it is working. It is rare to see any plastic littering the verges, and I never saw any of the impromptu landfills that are so common in informal settlements.” Men and women are regularly seen sweeping up rubbish and participating in their monthly neighbourhood clean-up days. With such strong results replacing the plastic with paper, the same action can be applied in Australia.
We have seen the Financial and Telecommunications industries redevelop marketing strategies to compensate for these environmentally savvy consumers. Companies who were previously using ‘save the trees’ slogans within marketing campaigns when removing the option for paper billing are now building campaigns to promote technologies ‘ease of use’ instead. Can the supermarket sector learn from these lessons and ensure their actions result in an environmentally friendly result?
Shoppers need to be educated on the full environmental impact of the plastic bag ban in order for behavioural change to happen. The opportunity lies here for the supermarkets to meet these smart and knowledge hungry consumers and enable them to make true green choices.
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