Tom Harvey, co-founder of YesMore marketing agency, says it’s time for drinks producers and retailers to give careful consideration to sacrificing easy wins in favour of genuine steps to secure the future of the planet
Since the dawn of humanity, the desire for convenience has driven advances that shape the way we live and work. From the very earliest tools to recent developments in artificial intelligence, we have constantly sought out ways to make our lives easier and more productive. Even within retail, we have convenience stores that are literally named after the benefit they provide to consumers.
However, it’s become clear that there is an inconvenient truth behind the notion of convenience: sustainable choices are not always very convenient. So should the drinks industry be re-evaluating convenience’s role as a primary value in consumerist society and embrace sustainability, even if it means a little discomfort along the way?
Many convenient aspects of our daily lives are now recognised as unsustainable. The use of plastic corks, plastic seals, plastic beer can carriers, pesticides, cling film around pallets, diesel delivery vehicles and packages protected with bubble wrap are just the tip of the iceberg.
Their sustainable counterparts are inconvenient in that they’re often more expensive, in poor supply or of inferior quality. They’re often logistically challenging too.
When Steve Cox, chief executive of In Good Company, gave me a tour of the recently-acquired Fourpure Brewery, he told me there was a waiting list of several years, and investment of hundreds of thousands of pounds needed, to switch to more sustainable equipment.
As we become more aware of these issues, it’s essential to question whether convenience should remain the guiding principle. What if we built a society that valued inconvenience as a means to reduce our impact on the environment and each other by metaphorically embracing taking the stairs over the escalator?
Such a shift would require a re-evaluation of our consumption patterns – both B2B and at a consumer level – and a willingness to accept certain inconveniences in our daily lives.
At a consumer level, we saw this when shops started charging for plastic bags. The inconvenience of paying for a new one forced customers into behaviour change, and brought about a reduction of plastic bag consumption of 97%, according to the UK government.
Could retailers bring about other changes in consumer behaviour through sustainability initiatives? Could brands support them through communication in marketing?
To embrace sustainability, perhaps businesses and consumers need to reassess their ideas of value and progress. Instead of focusing solely on the lowest cost and greatest convenience, we could prioritise products and practices that are more sustainable, even if they require additional time, resources and money.
We could choose to eat more seasonal foods, supporting local farmers and reducing the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation. Or condition ourselves to be happy to spend more on drinking only beers, wines and spirits with sustainable accreditations.
Instead of encouraging inconvenience, retailers could look to incentivise the purchase of sustainable goods by offering rewards and added value, such as double or triple loyalty points when purchasing products with sustainable accreditation.
ABILITY TO INNOVATE
It’s important to acknowledge that embracing sustainability does not mean rejecting all forms of convenience. As humans, we possess the ability to innovate and develop sustainable solutions that are also convenient – or which become more convenient over time.
By harnessing our intelligence and creativity, we can devise processes, systems and technologies that align sustainability with convenience. These innovations can bridge the gap between the two, ensuring a transition to a more sustainable future without compromising our desire for ease and efficiency.
The time has come to challenge our assumptions and rethink the notion that convenience is king. In a world grappling with climate change and environmental degradation, prioritising sustainability over convenience is not only an opportunity but is also necessary for positive change.
Audiences are more savvy and selective than ever – and the opportunity for brands and retailers is huge. The challenge, of course, comes in getting customers on board with a less convenient but more sustainable path – and this comes through brand communications.
Marketing and advertising will help shift mindsets, and foster a culture that values longevity, quality craftsmanship and environmentally-conscious supply chains.
SPIRITS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Two Drifters rum has faced inconvenience and sustainability head on at every touch point throughout its production supply chain. Plastic seals are biodegradable, labels are made from sugarcane and hemp, and it is using lightweight glass. It also uses emissions reduction specialist Climeworks to “tax” itself by paying to remove any CO2 equivalent it emits, driving it to remove as much carbon from the supply chain as it can to keep this cost down.
Salcombe Distilling packs its direct-to-consumer orders without plastic tape and uses protective rice packaging which disintegrates when held under a running tap. It also offers a 20% discount when refilling a bottle at its distillery and donates to sustainability organisations, including 1% for the Planet.
East London Liquor has produced a 10-litre refill bottle for pubs and bars. It has sold 1,270 of them, removing 18,000-plus standard-sized bottles from the supply chain.
Pernod Ricard’s Havana Club aims to power its distillery with 100% solar energy by 2024 – it is currently at 45% – and then generate enough surplus energy to distribute to local communities free of charge. It has helped 2,000 farmers close to the distillery by supplying waste by-product from production to feed cattle.