In the face of climate change and unaccountable corporations, consumers are increasingly vocal about their desire to support transparent companies that actively fight for social justice and offer eco-friendly products and alternatives to conventional items.
In response, more brands are demonstrating accountability. Some of the fastest growing businesses are those in the natural product category, those with recycled and recyclable packaging, sweatshop-free and fair trade sourcing, and brands with affiliations with charitable organizations. All else equal, people are investing in brands they feel align with their values.
These are a few trends we’re seeing and how pioneering companies are directing fiscal power toward advancing change:
1. Makers and hyper-local merchandise
By shopping locally, consumers support merchants in their own communities who, unlike large corporate brands, are more apt to also keep their dollars in the local economy. The “locavore” food movement is only one way to shop local. Craftsmen, small-time clothiers, and more are starting to see resurgence. ETSY, an online marketplace for handmade goods processed $2.39 billion in gross merchandise sales in 2015.
This cultural shift is happening across the globe – a good example is the Renegade Craft Fair. Originating in Chicago 13 years ago, “the largest independent craft fair in the world attracts 300,000+ attendees” across locations worldwide. It focuses on maker-designed goods, local crafts and cuisine, and interactive experiences – it’s like the old school version of eco-friendly products.
And our friends at BALLE (the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) are nurturing a new economy of Localists – entrepreneurs and policy makers than know place matters, ownership matters and are connecting the dots between businesses and communities.
2. Brands are getting political – in a good way
Brands like LUSH are making waves by becoming political advocates, and has managed to combine record sales with controversial campaigns in the process. They join leading brands is raising their voice to drive the policy changes needed for a more sustainable future. BICEP, an US based organization, is an advocacy coalition of businesses committed to working with policy makers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation – they boast over 360 businesses.
More recently Starbucks took out a full page ad to get into the fray on the coming US Presidential election and Fairware client Nature’s Path Foods has been a long time advocate of legislative change to ensure GMO labeling in food.
3. Zero Waste
According to the EPA, Americans generated 254 million tons of trash in 2013, recycling and composting just over a third of this. Our appetite for pre-packaged, single-use items fuels this unnecessary disposal. Fortunately, sustainable products and a healthy economy aren’t mutually exclusive (as you can read about in a recent Fairware blog post on the topic). These two companies see the value in reducing waste while redefining consumerism.
Former president of Trader Joe’s Doug Rauch learned that millions of Americans suffer from hunger or diet-related chronic illnesses despite the nation wasting over half of food produced. In response, he launched the Daily Table, a not-for-profit grocery offering healthy, whole foods at fast-food prices.
Bea Johnson and her adventurous family of four generate less than a quart of trash annually. Read her story and find zero-waste tips for every lifestyle here.
Fairware clients Nature’s Path Foods and Tesla have both embraced Zero Waste mandates. Nature’s Path recently had their manufacturing facilities certified Zero Waste to Landfill. And Worker-owned Colorado brewery New Belgium has diverted 99.9% of waste from landfills, and as consumers wake up to the perils of excess waste, more brands announce waste reduction as a priority.
4. Natural, non-toxic products
As people learn of the harmful effects of the thousands of chemicals found in everyday items, they’re increasingly demanding products that are not only safer for their bodies but also for the environment. One successful advocate is Lauren Singer.
While experimenting with ways to remove plastics and toxins from her life, she invented her own personal care and cleaning products, now sold by her company, The Simply Co. Her business was founded on the desire for safer products, but many large conventional brands are releasing natural products lines, too reacting to consumers desire for more transparency and less chemicals in their products.
Sites like the Good Guide have created easy to use apps that rate consumer products based on health, environment and social impact. The Good Guide literally puts the research in the hands of consumers while they’re scanning the shelves at their local stores. And businesses like the Grove Collective research and hand-select the best natural products, and deliver them (carbon offset) right to your door.
5. Closed loop manufacturing
Explored at length in the book Cradle to Cradle, closed-loop manufacturing is about creating biodegradable products or materials designed for indefinite use.
For example, instead of legislation meant to control behavior (littering fines), manufacturing could render those regulations unnecessary by creating biodegradable coffee cups. Some even propose cups embedded with seeds, transforming “litter” into something beneficial. Here are some great examples from an Autodesk Product Design Challenge – which aimed to remake the way we design things.
A fellow B Corp, gDiapers, is Cradle to Cradle certified, and is trying to move away from having non degradable plastic in their products. gDiapers inserts are more than 75 percent cellulose-based. They fit into reusable gPants to make a system that is part disposable, part reusable. The wet disposable inserts are meant to break down within home compost in three months.
6. Giving products second lives through upcycling
Although recycling is preferable to trash, the worth of recycled products often decreases as material is melted down to create lower quality, non-recyclable products. This is called “down-cycling.” Upcycling seeks to circumvent this, transforming undesired materials like retired fabrics into sought-after items, such as designer bags.
Fairware worked with Aspen Skiing Company to develop an upcycled line of bags repurposed obsolete ski uniforms as material for chic new messenger bags and totes. These products not only demonstrate Aspen Skiing’s commitment to corporate and environmental responsibility; they also save the business money by reusing existing promotional materials.
In today’s age of information, it’s never been more powerful to vote with your wallet. Documentaries and social media movements have brought us into the lives of workers half a world away, and citizens are standing up against the companies that exploit them.
Consumers are speaking up, actively choosing to support brands that care about more than profits. To stay relevant, companies must respond to those increasingly concerned with where their dollar goes. Follow the trends, we think they’re pointing in the right direction.