Forum: Consumers ‘significantly more’ socially, environmentally sustainable

By Kristiane Sherry |

Social and environmental sustainability is becoming more important to consumers across all age demographics – but skewing younger. IMAGE: Grant Pritchard Photography

Global consumers – regardless of age demographic – have become more socially and environmentally sustainable, but there are challenges around defining the term, a TR Consumer Forum panel has said.

Speaking at last month’s event, held in Vienna, a group of sustainability-focused GTR stakeholders explored how the issue is resonating in the session called Generation Regeneration.

The panel comprised Rasmus Andersen, Global Retail Director & Partner, Joe and the Juice; Verity Lawson, Group Head of Sustainability, SSP Group; Anna Marchesini, Head of Business Development, m1nd-set; Tracy Ross, Projects & Design Manager, Sustainability Champion & LEED Green Associate and AerRianta International Middle East; and Nicola Wells, Head of Category Development, Nestlé International Travel Retail.

They were also joined by Sam Howson, Commercial Director at Ocean Bottle, who was a speaker at the Green Shoots Exchange earlier in the week.

Marchesini opened, sharing data exclusive to conference delegates. She also posed the question around how sustainability is defined. If it means different things to different consumers, if brands are measuring ‘progress’ in different ways, how can claims be deemed meaningful?

Ross added: “We see people have gone a little bit quiet on ESG.” In a world where brands are held accountable for greenwashing, and anything could go viral on social media, there’s a sense of caution when it comes to business communications. “Keep the messaging simple, candid and honest,” she advised. 

She reminded delegates that regulations around ESG reporting are coming. “If you’re saying you’re carbon neutral, you better be. Because legislation is now protecting the consumer against false facts.”

Food waste

The challenges of food waste were also discussed. Lawson said that one third of all greenhouse gas emissions came from the food industry, and the panel called for better food waste collection at airport sites.

One-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from the global food industry, SSP’s Lawson said. IMAGE: Grant Pritchard Photography

Joe and the Juice’s Andersen confirmed that his business doesn’t throw any packaging out at the end of a day. 

Now in 23 airport locations, Joe and the Juice “is really suited to this environment”, he said. With an alcohol-free menu and a menu that’s up to 85% plant-based, it’s a good fit for consumers looking for alternative, more sustainable options.

Would consumers pay for sustainability?

The panel turned their attention to the realistic cost implication if sustainable options – in the current climate – often being more expensive. 

Heathrow Airport’s Retail Director Fraser Brown asked whether price could be used as a lever, in the same way that Heathrow charges fees based on how green an aircraft is.

The panel agreed that some passengers would consider it. “But when it comes to the crunch, will the consumer actually pay more? Ross asked. Case studies heard earlier in the week suggest perhaps not.

“Sustainability is great, but it isn’t always sexy,” Marchesini added, with the panel agreeing that working in concepts like personalisation or gifting to ‘greener’ products would be important.

The panel explored broad sustainability topics, including whether consumers would actually be willing to pay more. IMAGE: Grant Pritchard Photography

Other key takeaway points include that while sustainability resonates across all demographics, Gen Z are “much more open than older consumers,” Wells said. 

The life cycles of products need to be better considered, and single use plastics need to be completely banned, the panel said. 

Ultimately, although legislation is coming, a large part of the urgency sits with government bodies. Convincing them to step up will be a challenge.

The session drew to a close with a note on diversity and inclusion across the industry. While gains have been made, more needs to follow. 

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