Leon is doing it. Wagamama is doing it. Marriot’s is even doing it. Banning the use of certain types of single use plastic, and the plastic straw in particular, is being touted as the latest right-on decision made by many UK on-the-go outlets and restaurants. But with Michael Gove increasingly vocal about his intentions to ban plastic straws and China’s recent decision to no longer take on the UK’s recycling, the revolutionary quickly becomes the repetitive, and consumes are wondering why brands aren’t doing more.

It’s no longer just eco-warrior vegans who care about how much single use plastic they’re throwing away every day, and who are concerned more widely about the sustainability of the brands they use. With media like Blue Planet II making it painfully obvious just what a seismic shift is needed when it comes to our approach to plastic, the everyday decisions consumers can make to reduce their personal impact is rising up on consumers’ personal agendas. It’s no longer just a take-out coffee or an on-the-go wrap, it’s another coffee cup in landfill and another plastic sleeve in that could end up in the ocean. Consumers are realising just how crucial everyday brands are to making their intentions a reality, and are seeking out those that do more.

How can brands support these customers, and make the triple win of doing good for the environment, helping the customer feel good about their purchases, and communicate a strong brand purpose? I make a true effort to make the good of the planet and the people on it guide my purchasing decisions and it isn’t easy to make sure – or at least try to make sure – that the brands I interact with align with what I believe in. What I want from a brand is the knowledge that making sustainable decisions is at the core of their brand beliefs, and not just an initiative or a reaction. I want to know that when I buy from them, I can trust that they are as conscientious about their decisions as I am.

And some brands are doing just that. Pret a Manger have taken a different approach to their sustainability that engages its customers in the debate, and creates a truly empathetic brand. At the core of the brand is the idea of transparency, from the ingredients in your sandwich to where those ingredients came from, to what happens to what’s left over (more often than not, it goes to a homeless shelter). This is what makes its Twitter conversations about sustainability initiatives so effective and true to brand. Clive Schlee, Pret’s CEO, spoke to his customers through Twitter to form the brand’s policy on 50p discounts when consumers use a recyclable cup. Pret is doing the same now as it attempts to tackle the plastic bottle epidemic, and considers introducing deposits. By using this transparency, we know that Pret is listening to what will actually make a difference, and not what will gain some good PR. By taking the challenge step by step, we see that like all of us, Pret knows that it isn’t perfect, but it is constantly looking for ways to improve that will really have an impact, and engaging their customers in that conversation.

Just Eat, online food delivery market-leader, is continuing to be a market disrupter in this space. As reported by The Caterer, the brand is pioneering edible and biodegradable packaging for their delivery food. But like Pret’s Twitter conversations, Just Eat recognises that this is a journey the entire industry needs to go on. It is attempting to draw on its power as a market-leader to galvanise the industry to make a difference. Graham Corfield, UK Managing Director, told The Caterer, “… we are using our influence to drive more environmentally-friendly behaviour among our restaurant partners and customers. This is just the first step and we look forward to working with our partners and suppliers to support innovation in the sector.”

In a climate where consumers are more concerned than ever about their impact on the planet, they need brands that they can trust to be on their side, working towards the same goal. Plastic straw bans are crucial to achieving environmental goals, but brands have the power and freedom to do more and lead in sustainability, and help achieve the triple win. To really engage with progressing consumer demands, the efforts brands make need to be more than policies and rules. They need to be weaved into who the brand is, how it thinks, and how it feels, so that customers share in its sense of purpose and dedication. It’s about more than jumping on the sustainable brand band wagon: it’s about driving it.

BY ENGINEER Lucinda Toole

Lucinda.toole@thevalueengineers.com