If one is searching for silver linings from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some to be found, including the fact that 2020 is seeing the largest drop in greenhouse gas emissions since World War II. No one is arguing that COVID-19 will be a net positive—far from it—but is it possible industries across the U.S. will leverage this dark period of time to kickstart a sustainability movement that consumers have long been clamoring for? Multiple studies from the pre-COVID era concluded that a high percentage of consumers were willing to pay up for sustainable products.
The demand doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, either—Gen Z and millennials lead the way when it comes to supporting green brands, and as they achieve more buying power, restaurants will have to meet their expectations in order to succeed. Even in a tough economy, those are the consumers of the future, looking to make a connection with brands that show leadership in sustainability.
“Consumers today don’t just vote with their dollars, they also share their opinions online and voice their support and approval when brands live up to their desires to see sustainability in practice,” says Renée Yardley, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sustana Group. “Committing to sustainability has become a core way to build your brand, earn the trust of consumers and, ultimately, grow your business.”
Here are three cost-efficient ways brands can win over environmentally conscious consumers and practice sustainability, too.
1. Use Paper Products With Recycled Content
One of the frustrations brands face is that there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to how recycling works across different markets and municipalities. That means brands with more than one location are often required to find a unique environmental strategy for each market.
However, one thing that is universally true is that paper is typically recyclable. By working with local municipalities for the recovery of recyclable materials, we can all move toward a more circular economy by using this recycled content in new paper products again.
“One specific action is moving away from single-use foam or plastic to a more environmentally friendly material, like paper,” Yardley says. “In fact, paper is one of the most recycled products, and by choosing recycled paper food-service packaging, it can make a positive impact on your environmental footprint.”
2. Communicate Your Sustainability Goals
Consumers are demanding transparency in supply chain, so operators should take advantage of the opportunity to talk about their brand’s green-sourcing and supply chain partners to show a commitment to sustainable practices. In-store signage can be a way to communicate those things, but there are other methodologies, too—it’s important to ensure that marketing teams, management, and even floor staff are educated and aligned on what sustainability looks like, and why it’s important. This can help separate brands from the competition.
“It’s great to communicate why sustainability is important, but don’t stop there,” Yardley says. “Think about the impact of something more tangible to deliver your message—for example, a paper coffee cup—consumers are actually interacting with the cup, holding it in their hands; it’s no longer just about the beverage—the packaging itself makes a statement about how a company views sustainability.”
3. Understand Your Supply Chain
The circular economy demands participation at multiple levels, and can be difficult to navigate, especially when some decisions may seem out of a restaurant brand’s hands. Brand leaders can begin the conversation with current supply chain packaging and container vendors to understand their commitments and solutions to sustainability and work toward solutions together to collectively achieve a more circular economy.
“At Sustana Fiber, we manufacture FSC® certified recycled fibers compliant with FDA standards for food-grade packaging, and we work closely with paper mills and packaging convertors to create a closed-loop fiber future,” Yardley says. “Our goal is to help brands achieve their sustainability goals through a more sustainable supply chain—and all together, work toward a more circular economy.”
To find out how your brand can make its supply chain more sustainable, visit the Sustana Fiber website.