As the Russian permafrost liquifies and weather patterns turn erratic around the world, the clock ticks for the challenge of climate change. Although collective responsibility is acknowledged, eyes turn to brands, both large and small, to don their own environmental credentials as some of the world’s biggest contributors to waste production.

The sustainability space within the realm of brands, however, has evolved beyond meaningless green badges and occasional decorative initiatives. Consumers now demand complete transparency from their brands and are wising up to greenwashing with 71% of people saying that opaque buzzwords such as ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ have now lost their significance. In turn, pressure mounts for companies trying to navigate a sensitive landscape with a strategy that is both authentic and effectual. While a multitude of brands have joined the sustainability bandwagon, only a select few have made genuine impact.

From NatWest’s carbon footprint tracking app to Ikea’s buy back scheme, the market as it exists urges brands to innovate or risk being left behind. the7stars asked consumers which aspects of sustainability they thought different markets should focus upon, unravelling insight into which issues lie at the heart of each industry.

Arguably, for fashion and grocery, greenwashing has become the most widespread. More than half (58%) say that they struggle to find brands who live up to their environmental claims. Lightbox Pulse survey results also find that the two industries garner the most concern for sourcing sustainable raw materials alongside ethical working practices for employees. With fast fashion and food waste being two of the most alarming crises in climate change, banning overseas sweatshops and encouraging business with Fairtrade-certified producers could transform these industries. Brands leading the way in these initiatives include fashion label Reformation whose slogan is ‘Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. Reformation is #2.’ The LA based label commits to being 100% water, waste and carbon neutral. For the food industry, M&S and ASDA tackle the issue by introducing refillable grocery concepts in their stores whilst Iceland pioneers as the only supermarket in the UK to sell 4 different types of bycatch fish that is otherwise wasted.

Home furniture brands and packaged goods, however, were top contenders for recycling and waste management concerns. Although the packaged goods/FMCG industry is infamous for its damaging throwaway culture, the rise of fast homeware is another threat, rivalling fast fashion in depleting the world’s natural resources. Being the world’s largest furniture retailer, Ikea joined the anti-waste movement through its ‘Trash Collection’ campaign by showcasing Ikea furniture deposited on Norwegian coastlines that the retailer refurbished and resold for a discounted price.

On the other hand, utilities and travel populated the most votes for concerns on carbon emissions. For the former, consumers’ sustainability intent is evident with 81% of households switching to green energy tariffs in 2020 according to Compare the Market, as well as a steep incline in registered electric vehicles in the UK from 6,200 in 2011 to 200,000 in 2019. Meanwhile, for the travel industry, although only 16% are willing to forego air travel completely, consumers are willing to commit to smaller but maintainable green habits.  For example, 1 in 3 plans to book eco-friendly hotels for their next holidays and younger cohorts are more favourable towards travel companies who offer carbon offsetting.

Although industries may differ in focus, one thing applies to all. Sustainability is now crucial not just for the planet, but for each brand’s economic interest and market competitiveness. With social media and a growing cancel-culture, brands cannot risk being caught on the wrong side of a global societal awakening.

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