6 trends in sustainable marketing

23 feb 2022, jana kereknaoui

From homemade banana bread to cheap disposable face masks - the Covid pandemic turned not only our habits upside down, but also the way we consume. 2021 became the year of sustainability and transparency. Of conscious production, purchasing and responsible consumption. How? Find out here.


The Covid pandemic turned our daily lives drastically upside down. But the lockdown also brought positive changes. For instance, we have increasingly been displaying sustainable purchasing behaviour. A survey by Fairtrade Belgium shows that 42% of Belgians now show a preference for local products. The same survey also shows that they want to buy more fair trade (23%) and organic products (14%). More than ever, we attach importance to good service and quality products, preferably of local origin. And we have found that with our local traders, for whom it was especially difficult - and unfortunately sometimes impossible - to compete with the big online players during the lockdown, campaigns at municipal, regional and national level were launched to provide additional support for them. Think of the "ikwînkelhîer” (I shop here) campaign by Unizo, "ikkooplokaalinvlaamsbrabant” (I shop locally in Flemish Brabant) and "#samenlokaal” (local together) by RTV and TV Plus. It was virtually impossible to miss one of the countless posters on the umpteenth lockdown walk.


zero waste & plastic free 

With an increasing number of stories about waste polluting the air, water and land worldwide, we began to look en masse for alternatives to reduce our contribution to the mining of materials. Because with each discarded face mask or piece of single-use plastic, that waste mountain increases. 

As a result, zero-waste products such as soap bars, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable cotton pads, as well as services such as package-free shops, have gained popularity. The EU established the Single Use Plastics (SUP) rule for its member states - a set of measures to restrict the sale of the 9 types of plastic items most commonly found on European beaches - from cutlery and straws to stirrers and cotton buds - from July 2021. Hence the new 'plastic in product' label on supermarket packaging.  

In order to combat this kind of litter, there has been a deposit-refund system for cans and small bottles in Germany since 2003. In the Netherlands PET bottles larger than one litre and cans will also be subject to a deposit from 2023. Various parties in Belgium are striving to follow the example of our northern neighbours. A step in the right direction: WePlog launched an app last year that allows people to pick up litter in their neighbourhood and track their progress while plogging.  


reduce, reuse and recycle

Consumers are increasingly turning to 'reduce, reuse, recycle', especially in the form of minimalism and DIY projects. This is definitely a legacy of the lockdown, in which everyone rediscovered their love of baking banana bread, knitting scarves and making pottery. 

Second-hand or vintageclothes are also back in fashion. We’ve all seen the long queues at the Lithuanian second-hand shop ThinkTwiceand apps like Vinted, where you can buy or sell worn clothes, gaining popularity. Even the big players in the fashion industry are surfing this trend. There is 'Zalando pre-owned' where you can buy or sell second-hand clothes and likewise H&M, Zeeman and C&A launched a clothing collection programme to reuse or recycle fashion.  
What consumers want first and foremost is functional, high-quality products at a fair price. There is also an increasing ethical consciousness - the choosing of products with a positive impact. That also means being involved in the whole product process, from origin to final destination. So companies need to think about how a product will be developed, how it will live, what it will become and how it will be discarded and reused. This can be done by using more ecological principles, with less waste and shorter production times. More and more buildings, interiors and products will consist of recycled materials. In any case, companies must be able to prove their commitment, purchase ethically - and be transparent about it. 

products are out, solutions are in.

healthy cities

Instead of going abroad, in 2021 we all became tourists in our own city or country. But how healthy is life in our own city? 80% of Flemish cities and municipalities are taking both social and physical measures to improve the mental well-being and quality of life of their inhabitants (Gezondleven, 2021): combating loneliness among the elderly, creating more green spaces and various other initiatives. Think of the City of Ghent, where, through the low emission zone (LEZ) and the Circulation plan, better air quality and a healthier city is on its way. Or De Energiecentrale that gives free renovation advice to all Ghent residents.


carbon labelling  

But sustainability alone is not enough. What really matters is transparency. We want companies to show us how sustainable their products are, and what they are doing to make them sustainable.  

American trainer brand Allbirds, multinational Unilever and oat milk producer Oatly, for example, practise carbon labelling: they state the emissions of a product on its packaging. They calculate these using an LCA (life cycle analysis) based on raw materials, production, transport, use and waste disposal.   


transparency and cancel culture 

Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Zers, no longer follow the crowd, but think for themselves and increasingly conduct research, either online or via companies' social media. This recently gave rise to the phenomenon of 'cancel culture', in which famous people or companies are boycotted on social media because of socially undesirable behaviour. 

Oatly was, for instance, cancelled for its cooperation with Blackstone – an investor in and co-owner of companies that deforest the Amazon. Because of this 'cancel culture', some companies are afraid of making false claims and being cancelled themselves. Those who (un)consciously engage in greenwashing (pretending to be more sustainable or socially responsible than you really are) risk ending up in the eye of a media storm themselves. By contrast, those who are transparent and can substantiate their claims have nothing to fear. On the contrary.  


A really positive frontrunner in this is sports brand Nike. They back up their statements and campaigns with real actions - and make sure that everything is right, including diversity and sustainability behind the scenes. The world-famous sports manufacturer is also increasingly speaking out on political issues and making a social difference through brand activism. Just think of the Colin Kaepernick campaign and the initiatives around BLM. This can matter in terms of credibility.     

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