Who cares about sustainability? Consumers, that’s who. According to our USA Plus data set, a whopping 46% of Americans think sustainability is very important, and a further 33% think it’s somewhat important.
But here’s the kicker – consumers think it’s on you (aka brands) to get us out of the woods. Yep, that’s right. 64% of Americans think corporations have the most responsibility to act sustainably.
So, for any brands wondering whether it pays to be green, we can assure you it does.
Need to know how? Listen up. We’ll run you through 3 sustainable brand examples that are saving the planet one step at a time – and winning over the hearts of US consumers in the process.
We’ll explore green marketing successes, examples of authentic marketing strategies, sustainable fashion brands getting it right, innovative sustainable product lines, and how you can take a leaf out of these green brands’ books.
What does sustainability mean to US consumers?
Before we kick things off, we need to zoom out.
Say the word sustainability, and someone might picture separating their plastics from their food waste. Others might think of eco-friendly packaging. Or low-emission transport. You get the gist.
But what does it mean to the average American consumer? Well, for 63%, sustainability is defined as recycling, closely followed by preserving natural resources and wildlife, at 62%.
Most Americans define sustainability as recycling
And here’s one for brands to take note of – 59% of Americans define sustainability as using less harmful materials/substances/products. So for those keen to align with consumers’ on the S word, product development plays an important role. And that’s backed up by 59% of Americans who say brands should do more to make their products sustainable.
Sure, that might be associated with a heavier price tag, but consumers have got your back – they’re willing to pay up to protect the planet. 49% of Americans say that they feel better about buying things if they are sustainable, and 28% say that they’re willing to pay more for sustainable products and services.
Walk the walk: what do consumers want from sustainable brands?
For US consumers, sustainable materials and products are front and center, but what else do they want to see from brands?
The bottom line is 28% of Americans want brands to be sustainable, and younger audiences double down on this belief – Gen Z are 9% more likely to say this than the average American. But how?
When asked “Which is the most important thing for industries to improve?” – specifically referencing industries such as automotive, beauty, fashion, energy, finance, tech, F&B, travel, and household products, here were the key priorities:
- Reducing emissions/impact (61% of Americans say this)
- Offering sustainable products/services (60% of Americans say this)
- Making changes to be more sustainable (60% of Americans say this)
- Disposing of waste responsibly (50% of Americans say this)
- Fair treatment/wages for workers (34% of Americans say this)
What sustainable factors influence consumers’ purchase decisions?
While flashy headlines are certainly a nice byproduct of your green mission (alongside keeping your conscience clean), it actually pays to be green too. Sustainable credentials drive product purchases.
Let’s see how. Here are the factors that influence US consumers when they’re buying any type of product.
Price, recyclability, and sustainable packaging score highly in importance when consumers buy
But sustainable qualities like the recyclability of a product and sustainable packaging hold serious weight too – far above the opinion of a brand’s CEO.
3 sustainable brands hitting the mark with US consumers
And now to the good stuff. The roll call. The line-up. The 3 green brands going to the ends of the Earth for US consumers. We’ll be diving in to:
- Delta Airlines
Let’s get started.
Okay, okay, we get it. Planes don’t scream sustainability. But the aviation industry is a tricky one to decarbonize – Delta’s first to admit that – so it shouldn’t automatically be ruled out. And Delta’s straight-up, no-nonsense talk is something other brands can learn from.
On its sustainability hub, it says that “Jet fuel is the No. 1 contributor to Delta’s carbon footprint.” Sure, there’s no surprise there. But here’s what Delta’s doing about it.
- In 2020, it retired over 200 planes and replaced them with aircraft that are 25% more fuel-efficient.
- Delta plans to replace 10 percent of its jet fuel refined from fossil fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by the end of 2030.
- It released a Climate Lobbying Report, which outlines key activities and policy engagement that support the Paris Agreement-aligned climate goals.
- Onboard, you can find bedding made from 100% recycled bottles, reusable and biodegradable service ware, and amenity kits from B Corp brand, Someone Somewhere.
These are all huge steps in the right direction – and Delta’s right on the money. 31% of American consumers say the travel industry is doing a good job of reducing emissions, and 28% feel the sector is making changes to be more sustainable.
Not only does Delta have its own green initiatives, but it also creates content to help its consumers be greener too. It’s talking about sustainability in an authentic way, with data-driven storytelling – like its carbon emissions calculator, and user-generated content from its members. Take a look.
Again, Delta’s sustainable practices are flying high with consumers here. In fact, according to our data, US travelers who pick Delta for leisure travel are 26% more likely than the average US traveler to say that they actively look to limit the environmental impact of their travel, and they’re 32% more likely to pick a travel provider with a good sustainability/environmental policy.
More broadly, almost a fifth of American travelers say that they are more likely to pick a travel provider with a good sustainability/environmental policy, while 39% of American travelers are concerned about the carbon footprint of their travel.
Travel sits in the top 5 treats consumers indulge in on a budget, so even in the face of the “bad vibes” economy, it’s not something people are willing to compromise on. And when they do it, they like to do so in good conscience. Delta helps them achieve just that.
“By and large, people have no idea where their clothing is coming from, what it’s made out of, [or] the impact that it has. First of all, most importantly, the planet freakin’ needs this…And we don’t have time to like, be d*cking around. ”
That’s how sustainable fashion brand Patagonia’s short film, The Monster in Our Closet kicks off. Told through the eyes of a lawyer, a climate reporter, and a designer from Patagonia, this story uncovers the links between the apparel industry and the oil and gas industry.
Patagonia has a long history of climate activism and green marketing, and it seems to be a top-down mentality, spearheaded by its founder’s love of the world. Famously, he fishes for half the year and always encourages his employees to go surfing when the waves are too good to miss. Seriously. Work can wait.
And he knows how important it is to walk the walk. He says “You are what you do, not what you say you are,” which is a mantra sustainable brands ought to live by. Empty sustainability campaigns simply won’t work. You have to live and breathe sustainable practices. For Patagonia, that bleeds into education, investigative journalism, and raising awareness.
For example, Patagonia’s new publishing division recently released a book about the dangers of net-pen salmon fishing.
It’s a mentality its buyers share. According to GWI data, 41% of Patagonia shoppers are concerned about climate change – making it the top concern for this audience. And on top of that, Patagonia buyers really are nature lovers.Sure, it’s an outdoor apparel brand, but there’s a greater shared sentiment here.
Plus, Patagonia shoppers are 30% more likely than the average American to say that exploring the world is important to them, and they’re 36% more likely to say that making a difference in the world is in their top 3 hopes/aspirations.
Here’s how it’s encouraging that:
- Its website is a goldmine for anyone who wants to be more sustainable. With its activism directory, you can find a cause to support, sign a petition, volunteer your time, and donate money.
- 85% of clothing ends up in landfills or gets incinerated. Keeping stuff longer is a great way to reduce overall consumption, and Patagonia’s Worn Wear events help consumers do just that. It’s a program to trade in and buy used Patagonia gear. It’s currently cruising the West Coast and repairing garments whilst on the road.
- Patagonia has developed strict environmental and animal welfare responsibility programs to guide how it makes its materials and products (like 100% organic cotton) and ensures garments are produced under safe, fair, legal, and humane working conditions (with 86% of its products being Fair Trade Certified sewn). Plus, Patagonia’s supply chain transparency is worth taking note of.
As a fashion brand, Patagonia is an anomaly. With the advent of fast fashion, it’s no surprise that only 29% of consumers think the fashion industry is successfully making changes to be more sustainable.
But here’s why it works. Patagonia doesn’t just ensure it’s a sustainable fashion brand, it fosters activism in its buyers too, and through its laid-back honesty and authenticity, it makes activism an aspirational lifestyle.
When it comes to reducing emissions, Tesla’s got main character energy. In the US specifically, EV cars are taking off, with 17% of Americans interested in purchasing an electric vehicle according to our data. Not to mention, this US-founded brand is the first company to produce over a million electric cars.
According to its 2022 sustainability report, Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. It says:
“To accomplish this mission, we need to design products that are far superior to their fossil fuel counterparts in every way.”
At Tesla’s Investor Day in 2023, CEO Elon Musk talked about the company’s sustainability plans for an electrified energy future.
Sustainability is a huge part of Tesla’s brand – and its buyers share that mission. Our data shows that climate change is the number 1 concern among Tesla owners. And globally, Tesla owners are 10% more likely than the average consumer to say that helping the environment is important to them.
So what’s Tesla doing right?
- One thing American consumers think the automotive industry is doing well when it comes to sustainability is reducing emissions – with 52% saying this. Tesla’s right on target here. In its sustainability report, it highlights that every product it sells helps owners lower emissions.
- Its factories are designed to limit waste – built with sustainability from the ground up, like low emissivity windows, solar panels, and AI to control energy use.
- Tesla challenges the status quo, noting that traditional ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) metrics often allow the automotive industry to “drastically underreport” emissions. That’s why Tesla uses real-world mileage data to get a better view of its greenhouse gas savings.
Climate change chat can so often be coated in doom and gloom – and in a world where consumers are running out of mental bandwidth, that’s unlikely to inspire brand advocacy.
Here’s where Tesla really leads the pack. A key part of its messaging is hinged upon hope. “A sustainable future is within reach”, “The investment required is manageable and achievable”, “Only 0.2% of Earth’s land area is required.” These snippets are just a handful of the examples that inspire Tesla’s audience to believe in better, with the comfort of ‘better’ being within reach. It’s like we can take a sigh of relief.
Let’s not beat around the bush
In 1986, a New York environmentalist coined the term ‘greenwashing’ in response to hotels encouraging guests to reuse their towels to save the planet. But it wasn’t a novel attempt at green marketing. In reality, it was an attempt to reduce laundry costs.
Today, the fear of greenwashing hangs heavy in the ether of sustainable marketing – and rightly so. Granted, 58% of American consumers like to see sustainability talked about in ads, but 55% are concerned about greenwashing.
The point is, brands shouldn’t be going green to make more money, or win over consumers. They should be doing it because it’s the right thing to do. And if they do so authentically, they’ll connect with consumers, and inspire a sense of community that’s aligned to something quite literally larger than life.