Green is the new black: Are brands after a PR opportunity?

A plastic revolution

Ever since Blue Planet II aired last year, Sir David Attenborough has single-handedly spurred a revolution in the UK. Making us more aware of our plastic consumption, the amount of plastic waste and pollutants in the environment, and highlighting the damage this does to animals and the ecosystem.

If we’re being honest, we were all aware of this issue long before Attenborough’s dulcet tones implored us to do more to save the environment. But something about his plea coupled with heart wrenching scenes struck a chord with the British public and mobilised us into action; the plastic revolution had begun.

Within weeks, petitions sprung up online attracting hundreds of thousands of signatures supporting the banning of plastic straws. A number of pubs, bars and restaurants voluntarily stopped dishing out plastic straws by default with drinks, and the government signalled that plastic pollution would be a key focus for their environmental policies moving forward. Building on the huge success of the 5p tax on carrier bags and the ban on microbeads in cosmetics products, a number of single-use plastics have been targeted including plastic straws, plastic stirrers, cotton buds, glitter, disposable coffee cups and excess plastic packaging.

The brands committing to reducing plastic waste

Many brands have taken note of the ‘Blue Planet effect’ and have implemented PR-friendly, green policies to curry favour with the newly eco-conscious consumer.

Supermarket chain Iceland have announced that by 2023 they will stop all plastic packaging on their own brand products; Waitrose have stopped providing disposable coffee cups for their free cups of coffee (customers must now bring their own reusable cup to redeem their free coffee); Pret a Manger have introduced filtered water stations to allow customers to fill up their own reusable water bottles rather than purchasing yet another plastic bottle; Costa have unveiled a scheme to recycle 500 million disposable coffee cups a year; McDonalds have announced a ban on plastic straws across the UK, and Starbucks have implemented a 5p coffee cup charge nationwide, after a London trial increased reusable cup usage by 126%.

Even in the traditionally plastic-heavy beauty industry, brands are starting to make changes. L’Oreal recently announced plans to help reduce the plastic waste associated with toiletries. Their new Source Essentielle range (part of the L’Oreal Professionnel brand) will offer consumers the chance to take their empty bottles to refill stations and simply top up their bottles with product, rather than buying a new plastic bottle and discarding the old one. They have also pledged that by 2025, all their plastic packaging will either be refillable, recyclable or compostable; which is a huge commitment for a brand of its size and stature.

More than just a PR opportunity

Now, the cynic in me says that some of these brands have savvy PRs working for them, who can see that the momentum behind this campaign shows no signs of abating, and they are all jumping on the bandwagon for some positive publicity….But who knows, maybe David Attenborough pulled at their heart strings the same way he did the rest of the British public?

There are a number of brands, however, for whom an eco-friendly approach has long been a part of their core values, not something they have added in recently to be “on trend.”

Perhaps one of the brands most well-known for this is Lush, who have long been environmental campaigners. Not just content with adopting recycled packaging and “naked” products as par for the course, they also set out to educate consumers on the effects many traditional cosmetic products and their packaging has on the ecosystem, animals and the environment.

Once known for their fragrant shops that you can smell as you approach them in a shopping centre, Lush have carved out a niche for themselves in recent years and their steadfast and unwavering approach to their core values have endeared them to many consumers, millennials particularly, regarding their stance on using natural, ethically sourced ingredients, not testing their products on animals and offering sustainable, environmentally friendly packaging. It’s clear that environmental issues are at the heart of the company philosophy, ethos and brand values, and is not just something they do to generate column inches and likes on Facebook.

With studies showing that up to a third of consumers are choosing to buy from brands they perceive to be sustainable or environmentally friendly over their competitors, there is clearly a huge opportunity for brands to capitalise on this and increase their market share. However, whether or not the momentum behind this movement lasts remains to be seen.

It does seem that many brands are taking a long overdue step in the right direction. Albeit questionable whether their motives are purely philanthropical, or are more driven by a PR opportunity and financial gain; but at least the environment should benefit whatever their motivations. For the long term picture though, brands should be aware that consumers won’t be fooled by a one-time PR opportunity, and it will be the brands with helping environmental issues at the heart of what they do that will prosper.

pr opportunity


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