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We do not live only here and now, says Matthias Blume, the group marketing director in Frontline ASEAN and South Pacific at The Coca-Cola Company and a member of The Marketing Society. It is a shared responsibility: brands must be the ones showing the way, not only via emissions reduction, innovation and waste recycling initiatives within their operations, but also through education and consumer activations designed to encourage improvement in sustainable behavior.

Purpose in our marketing efforts is an evolving if not a quickly-moving target for some. Social and environmental issues in many ways are evergreen, with more and more brands taking it on... be it Lego, Adidas, Unilever, Olam or a plethora of startups putting sustainability at the heart of their business.

It sounds like a smart thing to do, but is it worth the efforts and is it rewarded by consumers?

According to a recent study by Edelman, 63% of respondents quoted they would be more attracted by brands making the world a better place v brands making them a better person (37%).

The challenge for us marketers, according to David Ogilvy, is, “consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

65% of people claim to be ‘green consumers,’ but only 26% follow through with purchasing brands that advocate their sustainability characteristics – often because buying ‘green’ tends to be more expensive than less environmentally-friendly alternatives. Animal welfare is a perfect example: consumers want better living conditions, but the moment you need to pay $13 for a dozen free-range organic-fed eggs – which would buy you 60+ ‘regular’ eggs – the decision for many becomes easy.

If many consumers are not willing (or able) to pay a higher price, why should brands and companies bother? According to Kantar, consumers don’t want to pay more for ‘green’ because they believe it is an industry’s responsibility to be leading sustainability initiatives.

I firmly believe they are 100% right, because it is our responsibility for a better shared future.

Many brands are working hard to improve their sustainability credentials and make a difference on important topics. One of my favorite examples is Adidas’s partnership with Parley for the Oceans. Parley collects ocean-bound plastic waste, which is turned into recycled polyester that Adidas then uses to manufacture sportswear. The partnership has been running for five years and Adidas’s target is to use 100% recycled fabric in all of its products by 2024. Unfortunately, sportswear made from rescued ocean plastic is not cheap. It is, for now, more of a status purchase until improved economies of scale can be achieved.

Kraft Heinz, like others, introduced plastic bottles made partially from plants several years ago. They’ve since redesigned all of their packaging components to be recyclable and they are starting to use only recycled PET in the production of their bottles. Carlsberg, Diageo and L’Oréal are experimenting with paper bottles. Every big company is looking to redesign its packaging to enable change.

There are two sides to every coin though. Unilever estimates that 70% of the company’s greenhouse gas footprint depended on consumer product choices, their product usage and their packaging disposal behavior. While consumer demand certainly leads to innovation by the enterprise, it is post-purchase behavior that can result in packaging waste sadly entering the environment.

We do not live only here and now. It is a shared responsibility: brands must be the ones showing the way, not only via emissions reduction, innovation and waste recycling initiatives within their operations, but also through education and consumer activations designed to encourage improvement in sustainable behavior.

The collection of plastic packaging – so that the containers don’t enter our waterways and oceans – continues to be a key step. Nowhere is this more critically felt than in Asia, where an estimated 80% of ocean plastic enters the waterways.

The Coca-Cola Company has a goal to help collect a bottle or can for every one we sell globally by the year 2030. It forms part of our ‘World Without Waste’ vision and we are redesigning our packaging, ramping up our efforts on the collection and partnering with others to achieve it.

Sprite has been in a green bottle for 60 years, but the iconic green color has become a challenge from a sustainable packaging perspective.

Across many ASEAN countries, PET plastic bottles have real economic value. Many people make their living collecting these bottles to sell to junk shops, recyclers and recyclable waste processors. However, the process for converting colored plastic into recycled material is more complicated than for clear plastic, which makes colored containers virtually worthless and means collectors usually leave them to enter landfills or the environment.

It was hard to imagine changing the color of Sprite bottles. However, that’s what we’ve done in countries throughout ASEAN over the last couple of years, changing to clear packaging to help solve the problem of colored packaging not being desirable for recycling collection. No doubt any brand marketer reading this is probably feeling a little faint at the thought. Our teams were no different – why give up such a distinct brand asset that stands out on the shelf? Simply because we must! As marketers, I firmly believe we have a pivotal role to play.

Social enterprises in the region understand the inherent local issues and devise unique strategies encouraging behavioral change and responsible waste management at the consumer level. In Thailand, for example, an environmental startup called Trash Lucky motivates consumers to recycle by rewarding them with entries into prize draws funded by sales of products made from recycled materials.

Coca-Cola Thailand has partnered with Trash Lucky and is sponsoring the prizes to be awarded during the campaign. This will permit plastic recyclables – all beverage brands are accepted – to be converted into personal protective equipment (PPE) for donation to health organizations working on the Covid-19 response in the country.

The aim of partnerships with Trash Lucky and others in the region is to engender awareness, action and longer-term recycling habits in consumers.

Less green is more green! When we come together as one, change what we do and lead the consumers there won’t be a need to overcome a say-do gap.
It is beholden for marketers like us to make decisions that encourage sustainable practices – even at some risk to a brand’s value.

Matthias Blume is the group marketing director in Frontline ASEAN and South Pacific at The Coca-Cola Company and a member of The Marketing Society.