The rise of the eco-conscious consumer
Being unsustainable is no longer an option.
By Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA
In today’s social media-driven society, it’s more important than ever to get into the heads of potential and future customers. What are they thinking? What are they expecting from you?
One very evident trend is a desire for environmental sustainability. More and more people (of all ages, but especially youth) are concerned about pollution, waste and environmental degradation. They expect you to share their beliefs, and will go elsewhere if you don’t.
A subset of this movement is the rise of so-called Conscious Capitalism. I recently attended a very interesting seminar on the subject and emerged a big fan. In a way it was like going back to my childhood – because I grew up with it. My Dad was a walking model of Conscious Capitalism. The oldest of 12 children growing up on a farm after the war, he started out with virtually nothing, built successful retail businesses by genuinely caring for the people and community he served, helping (among other philanthropic endeavours) to build a new hospital and participating in making the city of Kilkenny a tourism attraction. As a daughter who loved being around him, I saw firsthand how he discreetly helped people in need without making a fuss or drawing attention to himself.
A U.S.-based organization that is in fact called ‘Conscious Capitalism’ (www.consciouscapitalism.org) proudly states “Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. Conscious Capitalism is a way of thinking about capitalism and business that better reflects where we are in the human journey, the state of our world today, and the innate potential of business to make a positive impact on the world.”
It’s not as if we in the spa industry have to go through some sort of conversion to believe in a more sustainable world economy. Spa people are very, very, very concerned about sustainability. For those who have concern and are not sure where to start, try some of the tips at the end of the article.
Environmental sustainability and eco-anxiety
Sustainability and so-called eco-anxiety have been particularly prevalent during COVID. A recent survey conducted by U.S. think tank Wunderman-Thompson titled Regeneration Rising attempts to summarize the views of 3001 American, Brits and Chinese interviewed on the subject of sustainability.
I tried not to be put off by an introduction that reads: “Our economies have delivered unimaginable wealth, but only for the few.” After all, as renowned scholar and Harvard professor Stephen Pinker so ably observes in his book Enlightenment Now, modern capitalist economies have done an unprecedented job of lifting populations around the world out of poverty and into states of much greater ease and comfort. State-sponsored capitalism in China alone has raised hundreds of thousands of people from poor to middle class in a single generation.
The report’s research does reveal how prevailing attitudes – even among people not fully equipped with all the facts – can indicate current and future behaviours. One example: 72 percent of generation Z (born between 1995 and 2010) say they would not work for a company that does not have a good record on sustainability.
A company’s intent to change and adapt is seen as a positive. “Of our respondents across the United States, the United Kingdom and China, 84% think economies should be rebuilt in a way that champions inclusivity and sustainability,” says the report. “Businesses are now aspiring to a new class of leadership, setting bold commitments to net zero and pledging action on inequities. A more open era awaits, characterized by collaboration and open-sourced innovation.”
In a world still reeling from COVID, people are also valuing nature more than ever. The World Economic Forum forecasts that a “nature-positive” economy could unlock $10.1 trillion in business value annually by 2030.
An impressive 85% of survey respondents said they were prepared to rethink the way they live and spend to tackle climate change, while 70% professed that they would consider making dramatic changes in their lifestyle. And more than half (58%) said they would be prepared to consume less in general.
Of course, saying something and actually doing it are two different things; how many will cancel their vacation to Rome or stop buying clothes made of synthetic fabric is a big question mark. But the numbers at least seem to indicate intention. Customers will be looking for signs that you’re as committed to sustainability as they are.
In fact, as a company owner or manager, you need to be aware of the potential of not listening to customers, especially younger ones.
Aligning with customer and employee sustainability values
“Outdoor brand Patagonia famously refuses to work with suppliers that don’t align with its values, and more brands are taking this stance,” says Regeneration Rising. “In 2020, retailers ASOS and Zalando dropped lines by the fast-fashion brand Boohoo after allegations of unsafe conditions and low pay at its factories in the United Kingdom. In January 2021, Unilever announced it would refuse to work with suppliers that do not pay staff a living wage from 2030.”
We can expect similar reactions by customers who don’t see their beliefs and values reflected in those of the spas they choose to frequent.
Such is the level of worry that 66 percent of respondents said eco-anxiety affects them personally – rising to 72 percent for those in the Generation Z. Some companies are addressing the issue in a very direct fashion. UK green power firm OVO Energy offers actual tips for coping with eco-anxiety, while electronics giant Samsung has come up with a self-directed curriculum called Turn Climate Anxiety into Positive Action. Another Korean company, car maker Kia, has a soon-to-be-released electric car called the EV-6 that uses upholstery made entirely from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) – mainly recycled plastic bottles. Again, a small but worthy step which indicates where industry is hopefully headed.
On the diet front, two-thirds of survey respondents said they’d be willing to pay more for groceries to support more sustainable farming. New York-based fast casual dining chain Just Salad includes the carbon footprint on menu items, with an additional ‘climatarian’ search filter so diners can identify the most planet-friendly meals. Better-known chain Chipotle has devised a sustainability tracker called Real Footprint, which compares ingredients on such metrics as soil health, water usage and carbon emissions. Shoe manufacturer Allbirds is the first fashion label to attach a carbon footprint rating to its products. And a little closer to home to some of us in the spa business, perhaps: L’Oreal is rolling out a labeling system that ranks its products from A to E in environmental performance, Wunderman-Thompson reports.
Whether any company (including giant L’Oreal) will ever publicly give itself an ‘E’ in environmental performance remains to be seen. But, again, at least it’s a step in the right direction.
As I said, I found the report to be a very useful snapshot of what’s to come, and in my opinion, the changes are needed. We’re in the midst of massive disruptions that I – along with my fellow travellers in the Conscious Capitalism crowd – believe will lead to a better and healthier world and business climate.
Things your spa can start doing now
Why just watch the trends when we you help spread them? Here are a few things you can and should start doing today to keep your business healthy and relevant.
- Sell eco-friendly products. People are reading ingredients like never before. Make sure yours are green.
- Recycle everything you can, and be very visible about it. Remember it’s not just about doing it. Rightly or wrongly, it’s about making sure everyone knows you’re doing it.
- Use sustainable materials. If you’re renovating, using things like environmentally sourced countertops, recycled wood walls and cork floors will make a statement about your environmental commitments that won’t be lost on your clientele.
- Save energy. Using low-energy (LED) lighting and upgraded, renewable insulating materials, for example, shows you care.
- Be a leader. Displaying posters or materials addressing sustainability will establish you as part of the environmental movement.
Published as “The rise of the eco-consumer” in Spa Canada September/October 2021
Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA, is President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., and an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She is also an international consultant in developing product lines, treatment plans and training programs, a member of ISPA and a recipient of the Spa Industry Association of Canada Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012.