A Global Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum in January found that 2 out of 3 adults have modified their actions to be more sustainable. Brands today have to navigate a world in which people are buying less and reducing their consumption. 

Propelled by the fact we need to regrow our economy as we slowly climb out of the Covid-19 crisis (fingers crossed), here’s a look at how businesses are balancing their need to sell more with people’s growing desire to help the planet by consuming less. This is fast becoming a top priority for marketers today. 

It’s important to note that the current crisis is actually unravelling some of the progress we’ve made, such as the increased use of single-use plastics in PPE and the projection that people will return to cars to avoid public transport. It would be short-sighted to assume the pandemic and economic fallout has pushed sustainability off the consumer radar altogether. If anything, the crisis may have awoken more consumers to consider global issues like climate change and environmental sustainability.

With help from our friends at Contagious, I’ve explored a range of industries and brands responding to a more sustainable ‘new’ normal.


From 3D printers to digital clothes designers, here’s a look at fashion retailers building their brands around timeless items, the big upcycle and ‘less is more’ wardrobe capsules. 

To kick off, John Donahoe, then CEO of eBay and now head of Nike, said:

‘The greenest product is the one that already exists.’  

Ropa Vieja (Old Clothes) / Adolfo Dominguez

This fashion brand has featured old items in their new campaign to urge people to avoid fast fashion.


This brand’s very ethos is sustainability. Every piece is made to last beyond the season, with essentials for the modern wardrobe underpinned by timeless craftsmanship. They’ve also considered other sustainability measures, including their repurposed tote bags, organic fibres, repurposed fabrics, recycled silver and recycled glass. 

Buy better. Keep forever. 

Nike’s Space Hippie Collection 

This new sneaker collection from SS20 is made entirely from excess waste from its factories.  The Space Hippie collection is an example of a brand capitalising on the sustainability trend — not only does the shoe provide a more sustainable option for consumers, it also positions Nike as a brand that cares about these issues. 


Borrow don’t buy

Then there’s the thriving ‘borrow don’t buy’ market, which spans most industries, from luxury retail to automotive. This, in turn, has positive implications for the environment.

Lynk & Co, which describes its subscription service as Netflix for cars, allows you to own a car for as little as a month. Upgrade, downgrade, or cancel your subscription with the click of a button.

Greener finance

Doconomy share a vision of enabling a sustainable lifestyle for everyone. They offer a banking service with a conscience and the world’s first credit card with a carbon limit, where spending and savings are measured by its impact on the planet, both negative and positive. 

How can we bring these ideas to life for marketers within retail finance? An obvious area for us is the continuing digitalisation of their processes, like banking forms that can be completed by video interviews. This remote interaction with banks will help reduce transport usage into branches and create a more sustainable business model.


‘Every little helps’: Tesco’s big move back in 2015 to make a shift from ‘product’ to ‘customer’ centric still supports their cause to be a sustainability champion

Here’s a nice example of how Tesco had addressed sustainability concerns. They’ve designed unique barcodes for their recycled bags to increase consumer awareness of plastic pollution in Malaysia.

Every time a customer returned to one of the Tesco stores with their Unforgettable Bags in hand, they were rewarded with a discount. If the bag wore out, Tesco replaced it for free and recycled the worn material to produce more reusable bags.

Fast food

Burger King generated 8 billion impressions from banning plastic toys from children’s meals in the UK

This recent initiative aimed to reduce Burger King’s environmental impact by removing plastic toys from their kid’s meals in 500 restaurants across the UK. They accepted the donation of plastic toys given away with previous King Junior meals, as well as those found in its competitors’ kids meals or in cereal boxes or magazines. All donated toys will be sorted and cleaned before being melted down and fashioned into new restaurant play areas and other items like serving trays.


Travel and addressing ‘over-tourism’

If we could take just one positive from the pandemic, it’s the fact that the skies are quiet, the roads empty and the sounds of wildlife have returned, even in the hearts of huge cities. So how do we help to maintain this? 

Data will have a key role to play in rebooting urban transport systems to integrate public, private and on-demand transport, such as bicycles and e-scooters. Running and cycling have a part to play in the new system too — they’ve been good for fitness, sustainability and for avoiding coronavirus. 

Brands should be thinking about how they support these new ways of travelling for customers, and employees.

Businesses need to think about how they support flexible working for the long term too — managing passenger flows into town, for example, will require investment in remote working systems.

And, in response to the most concerning topic of ‘over-tourism,’ some brands are offering eco-travel experiences to meet consumer demand and emphasise their eco credibility. 

The World Economic Forum explored what travelling could be like after Covid-19.


E-commerce is a mixed blessing from a sustainability point of view 

We might have fewer vehicles driving to stores, but we do have an increase in home deliveries. Local authorities will have a role to play in managing and mitigating the impacts of this, and data-driven intelligence will be key. At the very least, every one of those vehicles should be electric, and we will no doubt see more use of drones and autonomous vehicles in some contexts.

One bugbear in the current e-commerce model (which has only increased under the current restrictions) is the amount of packaging and the increase in household waste.

A sustainable response will require retailers to find ways of safely and sustainably removing packaging from their products, while increasing their collection of old items for recycling. This is especially important for electrical items. A few steps forward here would certainly sit well with consumers. 

To round up, please remember as marketers we have the power to utilise zero party data and start by simply asking our customers what they would like to see us do. We need to be super honest about our potential carbon offsetting schemes, which would generate good PR at the same time. 

And remember, I’ve only touched on environmental sustainability here — not economic or social sustainability. These issues are vitally important, and the pandemic has revealed huge issues with both.

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