Why the COVID-19 Pandemic and Sustainability are Inextricably Linked – and How Brands Should Respond
What is an eco-aware brand? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were increasing expectations among consumers for brands to be more sustainable.
A 2019 study by the Sterns Center for Sustainable Business found that sustainable products are responsible for more than half the market growth for consumer packaged goods since 2013. Businesses have continued getting into the sustainability game to compete for consumer loyalty – and then the 2020 pandemic turned everything on its head.
The Link Between a Global Pandemic and Sustainability
There are few things that make the entire world sit up and pay attention, and the pandemic is one of those things. Brands were a pivotal part of the outbreak since the beginning, as consumers hunted for toilet paper and sanitizer, online shopping and takeout became essential, and face masks and personal protective equipment turned into items of critical necessity and mass-demand.
Consumers saw brands respond quickly and effectively to these needs. And those responses made an impact on consumer sentiment. In fact, the 2020 Edelman Brand Trust Report found that 55% of consumers feel brands are doing a better job responding to the pandemic than their own governments.
As brands have stepped up to meet the moment – providing community support, enabling contact-free services, expanding product lines to produce supplies for medical personnel and consumers – we have seen that it is possible to rally around a cause and do public good quickly and in an impactful way.
Directly adjacent to the pandemic response is the climate crisis, and as brands have shown that meaningful change is possible to fight COVID-19, consumers will be looking for the same type of response to fight global warming.
Companies without a plan to develop a more eco-aware brand strategy in 2021 and beyond will likely lose consumer loyalty in a post-pandemic world.
The Pandemic-Focused Brand Becomes the Eco-Aware Brand
Because of COVID-19, consumers now have different expectations for brands. They want virtual communications. They want safe practices for product distribution and employees. They want contact-free service. And they want to feel taken care of.
The brands that do well responding to these pandemic needs will also be the brands consumers look to for placing a greater emphasis on sustainability.
Dunkin’ Donuts is a perfect example of this consumer expectation. The fast food chain stepped up immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak, donating $1.25 million to support health and hunger relief organizations. They also communicated with customers about the safety precautions their stores would be taking in an effort to keep staff and customers healthy while continuing to serve beloved coffee and donuts to the American people.
Recently, the brand announced it finalized the shift away from the environmentally-unfriendly polystyrene foam cups it has been using for years to more eco-conscious paper cups. While they have been planning the switch since 2018, the timing was impactful from a brand loyalty standpoint.
Brands that do good for their communities and the public during COVID-19 will be elevated in consumers’ minds, which will lead to greater expectations for what those companies are capable of doing when it comes to other major issues like climate change.
This statement should be taken as a positive – that brands will now be held to a higher standard of continuing a pattern of good that can be felt long after the pandemic. The events of 2020 have made people hyper-aware of the devastation that can be wrought by a single global event, and brands stand in a prime position to help mitigate similar challenges.