It's not easy being green: hoi polloi choose New Zealand's most sustainable brands

  • Brand
  • March 1, 2011
  • Ben Fahy
It's not easy being green: hoi polloi choose New Zealand's most sustainable brands

As part of its Better Business, Better World study, Colmar Brunton probed over 2500 New Zealanders to see what they thought of—or knew about—sustainability. And when it comes to the brands Kiwis perceive as being the most sustainable, ecostore, Toyota, Meridian, Air New Zealand and The Body Shop were named as the top five.

Sadly, in many cases sustainability appeared to be put on the back burner during the recession as costs were cut, but the consumer sentiment is certainly there: the survey showed 88 percent of respondents want to buy from environmentally and socially responsible businesses, more than half said sustainability influences their choice of provider or brand and almost half were planning to increase spend on ethically, socially and environmentally friendly products and services in the next year.

Still, only 13 percent said they feel well informed on matters relating to sustainability and more than three in four said the way companies talk about their social and environmental commitments is hard to understand, which means the challenge is to keep the messaging simple and engaging. And, slightly worryingly, 72 percent of those surveyed couldn't think of a brand within New Zealand or around the world they saw as a leader in sustainability.

The survey also showed six in ten think it's only the most innovative and progressive businesses that take sustainability seriously, and a similar number of us want to work for a company that's environmentally and socially responsible.

"It's a white space from a brand positioning perspective in almost every category, and one that consumers attach leadership and
innovation credentials to," says Colmar Brunton's managing director Jacqueline Ireland. "So if that's the type of territory you're seeking for your brand, then it's a largely untapped goldmine of opportunity at a time where truly relevant differentiation is very hard to come by for many brands."

She believes the stigma around 'green' is disappearing and there's a growing appreciation among Kiwis that sustainable products and services are just as good as others.

"As long as you can stack up on both quality and price, you'd be hard pressed to find a better growth opportunity in these times," she says.

She points to Method, a personal care and home cleaning products manufacturer that's among the fastest growing private companies in the United States, as a good example of a sustainability story that uses humour, wit, personality, weirdness and risk-taking to resonate with consumers (check out Method co-founder Adam Lowry's take on things from his speech at the Better By Design CEO Summit. Apparently members of the management team have been known to drink the plant-based cleaners at press conferences to show how natural they are).

ecostore is slightly more virtuous in its approach, but after being founded eighteen years ago it has come a long way and is the only SME in the top five. Chief executive Malcolm Rands says the fact that it is represented alongside big brands with big advertising budgets demonstrates its "unrelenting focus on providing healthier products" is getting the sustainable message across.

“Sustainability has been at the core of ecostore’s business philosophy since we started it in 1993; it’s our passion and guides everything we do,” says Rands.  “We ensure sustainability practices are applied in the manufacturing process of our products, including supplier selection and packaging, and other aspects of the business such as staff management and community involvement. For us, sustainability is not just about the effect of products on the environment but also on people’s health.”

Rands believes people want to do the right thing, but says it’s easy to get confused by all the so-called green and health messages out there.

“We want our customers to look critically at the products they choose. We’ve been around for a long time, so people know and love us as a family based company that walks the talk."

Rands says ecostore regularly seeks feedback from its customers to discover additional ways to further improve its products and services and identify opportunities to educate consumers further.

Some comments from the Better Business, Better World survey about the top five sustainable brands:

Ecostore: "They produce cleaning and homecare products that have less impact on the environment compared to their competitors"; "They use natural and safer ingredients that are organic, GE free, no chemicals and not tested on animals."

Toyota: "They work to reduce fuel emissions from petrol fumes by using non-emission energies such as electricity"; "Toyota – creating a true hybrid vehicle is the first step on the chain that leads us away for being forced to rely on fossil fuels."

Meridian: "They are trying to use energy in its most sustainable form—they are investigating and investing in wind energy."

Air New Zealand: "For them to choose an environmental friendly option for fuel is a big commitment and shows they are serious about contributing to our future."

Body Shop: "It’s a store that has been a leader in promoting the use of natural and sustainable ingredients in their products, long before it because fashionable."

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