Telltale Stories explores conscious consumerism and speaks to leading brands at Pebblefest in London
On a windy day in April, we attended Pebblefest at Flat Iron Square in London to see what moves in the space of ethical and sustainable brands. Pebblefest has evolved from an online magazine and is a celebration of cause-led brands that champion everything from zero waste, to locally sourced, wonky veggies and ethical fashion. Watch our video from the day, with interviews of the founder, Georgina Wilson-Powell, and a host of exhibiting brands, from online store Acala, to cosmetics brand Lush, Innocent juice drinks, and Rude Health cereals brand.
The various brand owners and representatives who participated in our interviews, spoke to us with great pride and passion about the multiple causes that their brands were supporting and offering solutions to address.
By entering the world of ‘purpose beyond profit’ brands tap into an entire community and culture of people who strive to lead more sustainable lifestyles. Furthermore, they are reported to benefit from a higher degree of employee attraction and retention, and, in some cases, employees, as well as their customers, become authentic brand ambassadors.
A new cohort of conscious consumers, spearheaded by female Millennials, are using their purchase power to support the causes they believe in and the changes they want to see. They are seeking out brands that more closely reflect their identity and sustainable values. Brands that challenge the status quo and allow them to feel part of a solution -not the problem.
We are experiencing a shift in values that people want to see reflected in their consumer choices to a greater extent.
This shift in value-led consumer behaviour has created a gap in the market that brands are scrambling to fill and sometimes, struggle to live up to, as start-ups and purpose driven brands rapidly gain market share.
The persistence of plastic
The importance of packaging, or in other words, sustainable alternatives to plastic, has become a paramount concern to consumers that can no longer be ignored by brands. Plastic has, in many ways, become a symbol and manifestation of what has gone wrong with our throwaway society, and an identifier of what to avoid.
Duncan Baizley, from Warc writes: “As this sustainability-focused consumer segment continues to grow, the phrase “not currently recyclable” on packaging will become a barrier to purchase, driving more customers to seek reusable and sustainable alternatives.”
In spite of the many great initiatives we heard of, we were surprised to find plastic still being an issue that several brands were yet to deal with.
Some brands, such as Lush entirely avoid the use of virgin plastic, and have come up with innovative solutions to encourage people to reuse their packaging e.g. by offering them a free facial, or to wrap their products in reusable scarves, as an alternative to plastic.
“I feel that every brand should be held accountable for the waste they produce, how they produce it and what they can do better” Rosie, Lush
Others are still looking for alternatives, searching for suitable materials, and asking themselves if they will have the same qualities of plastic? If the carbon footprint of these would be the same or higher when transported? What the cost-benefit analysis would be? And, if consumers would be willing to soak up the extra costs, if there were any?
Rude Health, a family run business, seemingly ticks all of the boxes with their healthy cereal breakfasts that contain 100% natural ingredients. But whereas their outer package is made of recyclable cardboard, their inner package is made of single use plastic. A seemingly minor issue in comparison to their otherwise admirable product and business practices, but one that becomes an issue for the growing segment of conscious consumers.
“We are still working on finding a better option for the plastic inside” Emily, Rude Health
Rather than eliminating plastic, Innocent has chosen to mix 35% virgin plastic, with 50% recycled plastic, and 15% plant based materials. Placing the responsibility on consumers, they urge them to be more compliant with their recycling, calling for a ‘recycling revolution’.
“Glass is not a more sustainable option for us, as it would increase our carbon footprint by about 3 times” Katie, Innocent
Making plastic recyclable, however, is not as simple a solution as it may sound, as fewer than 50% of household goods are currently recycled in the UK, and, as the recently aired BBC documentary series ‘War On Plastic’ exposed (among several others), the entire recycling system needs a rethink.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently considering a deposit return scheme to at least deal with bottles more efficiently, as other EU countries have been for decades. Meanwhile, innovative solutions to sustainable packaging are continually happening in the private sector. Cove, for instance, a single use water bottle, is made of naturally occurring biopolymers, which are entirely biodegradable, eliminating the need for recycling and removing dangers if consumed by humans or animals.
“The material, PHA, will break down into CO₂, water, and organic waste; this will happen in compost or a landfill, and even in the ocean.” Cove’s website
Newcomers in the market, such Acala, an online store that sells natural, organic and vegan health and beauty products, propose to eradicate plastic by specifically selecting products that are non-plastic and wrapping their products in recycled paper, card and natural tape. But even they struggle to make business needs and environmental concerns marry entirely, as each online purchase, sent by Royal Mail, leaves them with a carbon footprint of 14 tonnes of Co2 per year, according to their own website.
Conscious consumerism is of course not the answer to solving ethical and environmental challenges on its own, but it offers a tangible way to, at the very least, give consumers the option to make a difference on a small scale. From the choice of one’s energy company or means of transport, to the choice of one’s everyday fast-moving consumer goods. And without consumers continually pressuring brands to be part of the solution, changes are less likely to happen. The shift in consumer’s values and focus, has created an opportunity for brands to gain a more active and positive role in peoples lives, as well as the environment and society. It still appears to be early days for brands to become value orientated and there is room for improvement, but there is no doubt that the initiatives we have observed are an improvement to the status quo and are only the beginning of what is to come.