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Communicating Sustainability to the Consumer

Ali Hart
Ali Hart | Monday August 16th, 2010 | 1 Comment


What good are sustainability efforts if the consumer doesn’t understand them? Consumers are driving demand for a sustainable food system, so communicating with this stakeholder group is key to the long-term viability of triple bottom-line products. With such an array of sustainability indicators, companies must impart those most relevant to the consumer to effectively inform purchasing decisions. Likewise, companies must engage these conscious consumers in meaningful dialogues around this information.

At Sustainable Agricultural Partnerships 2010, presenters shared consumer research exposing what matters most to the target demographic. Multiple sources revealed that customers purchasing fresh produce deem “pesticide-free” a top concern, with organic falling significantly lower on the list of importance. Research also uncovered that for conscious consumers: the food and beverage category is one of the most important; buying local is important to support local farmers; and there is cynicism that big business can be truly sustainable. Information like this has fueled successful campaigns and efforts for myriad companies in this space.

As one Dole exec put it, soil conservation is a sustainability focus for the company, but is communicating that mission to consumers effective? Rather than bombarding customers with information on all sustainability efforts – including those that may not be relevant to them – the company sought more meaningful engagement. Dole Organic’s banana tracking system tries to give a human face to the multi-national corporation by connecting consumers with farmers, an accessibility feature often enjoyed by smaller companies like Burgerville. Burgerville showcases its commitment to locally sourced ingredients by hosting events in which partner farmers visit the chain’s restaurants and interact with customers. Because the local movement is an emotional one, the ability to physically (rather than virtually) shake the hand of the person who grew your food is especially powerful.

But this is not to say that power doesn’t exist in the virtual world. There are 30 million farms in FarmVille, an enormously popular Facebook game from Zynga, and only 2 million farms in the U.S. The success of this application further proves the public’s affinity for farms and food. In July, Cascadian Farms’ organic blueberries became the first in-game branded crop available in the FarmVille Market. On the first day of the campaign, players purchased more than one million crops. This phenomenon is evidence that, as Andrew Arnold of SureHarvest declared, “the wired consumer is a powerful consumer.”

While it is easy to proclaim that meaningful engagement and targeted information are the necessary ingredients for successful campaigns, the question of “how” still poses problems for many marketers. Assuming you’re a conscious consumer, which campaigns for sustainable products have influenced your behavior and why?

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Ali Hart is a sustainable communications and engagement strategist with a passion for life’s essentials: food, water and storytelling. Her background in the Entertainment industry, penchant for humor and MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School are Ali’s secret weapons in her quest to master the art of behavior change and to make sustainability inconveniently fun.

Read more Green Marketing stories here.


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