What is the biggest challenge in sustainability – and what is next?

From reusable packaging and recycling to going plastic-free and carbon neutral, there’s a lot being said about sustainability right now. How can you cut through the noise to find the issue that matters most? 

In the first of a regular series, drinks marketing agency YesMore brings together producers, buyers, marketers and consumers to get a full picture of the issues affecting the industry

Kate Macnamara, corporate affairs director, Molson Coors Beverage Company

We’re focused on reducing our carbon footprint to play our role in tackling climate change. We have been taking a comprehensive approach across our operations to meet our near-term 2025 carbon emission reduction targets – to reduce carbon emissions by 50% in our direct operations and by 20% through our value chain in the UK.

In March 2021 we became the first major UK brewer to produce our beers and ciders using 100% renewable electricity when we signed a power purchase agreement with RWE. Using electricity generated from the Tween Bridge wind farm in South Yorkshire across our operations has already prevented more than 61 gigawatt hours (or 61 million kW hours) of electricity from being made using fossil fuels.

Alongside other continuous improvement initiatives – such as carbon-capture technology at our largest brewery in Burton and improving energy efficiency – switching to renewable electricity has enabled us to hit our UK 2025 carbon emission reduction target for our direct operations four years early.

Dawn Davies MW, head buyer, Speciality Drinks

Sustainability is a big challenge for everyone and we, like many, are working out ways not only to change our own working practices but find ways to encourage better practices from others, although we are very much at the beginning of this journey.

This year we have launched a sustainability page online that makes it easier for the customer to shop in the way that they like, for example organically, from B Corp producers, as well as highlighting those who operate in a planet-positive way on many levels. We are also challenging bottle weights on new and existing brands to highlight the need for change, and it is something we take into consideration in our buying decisions.

Our biggest challenge is how we pack our deliveries to ship to customers – trying to balance breakage and sustainability is very difficult. We have, however, cut down the volume and type of packaging used, which, while not plastic-free, is a better solution than we had before and has helped reduce our carbon footprint dramatically. 

There is a long way to go on this but every step in the right direction is a good one and we are constantly striving to improve our work on sustainability.

Tom Harvey, co-founder, YesMore drinks marketing agency

The biggest challenge for marketers across the drinks industry – both in-house and at agencies and suppliers – is to advertise with integrity and honesty, aka, avoid greenwashing, even if unintentionally.

While some brands and marketers will intentionally put a sustainable spin on their marketing (unethical), it can sometimes arise without such evil intent. And this tends to come down to a knowledge – or perception – gap. This disparity happens in the space between the eagerness of businesses wanting to promote sustainability as a selling point for their brands, and the marketers needing to do their due diligence to ensure what they’re communicating is factually honest, accurate and truthful. 

There’s also a power play to consider here, where a marketing agency may not feel comfortable challenging a client with a superior position in the food chain. Marketers need to ensure they’re well educated on sustainability, and not be afraid to advise slowing down and reconsidering on key issues. 

It can be hard in this guardianship position, but it’ll be way worse for you, your clients, or your chief executive if the very target audience you’re trying to market to is wise enough to pick holes in your marketing or branding and call you out. 

Rebecca Ironside, qualitative director, Made You Think Research 

Just as sustainability does not have a single definition, nor is there one kind of consumer who is responsive to it. A consumer using a refillable water bottle will feel their behaviour is no less important than the one who has given up flying. 

The biggest threat to engagement with sustainability right now is the rising cost of living. Making sustainable choices can be seen as the preserve of those with disposable income – but even members of this audience are tightening their belts. 

As we come through this, and hopefully out the other side, I’d expect a revived interest in sustainability as the next highest societal priority. It’s a good time for brands to check that basic consumer expectations are being met, namely that the products still have to perform/work and it can’t involve significant additional effort (emotional, practical or financial). No one will drink an “eco” gin if it tastes rubbish. 

This is also the time for brands to explore their audience’s broader worlds to better understand which aspects of sustainability will be most resonant for them. The good news is that sustainability is increasingly top of mind – even if it sometimes means the paradox of ordering reusable straws from Amazon.

 

Related articles: