Twelve months ago we pondered the impact of the recession on the 'green' push.
We needn't have worried. With the continued success of green initiatives, including M&S's Plan A, sustainability remains high on the consumer agenda. But with green and ethical credentials becoming the rule rather than the exception, where do brands that have led and innovated on sustainability go next?
Over the past decade, the entire value chain has changed, with purchasing power removing waste at every stage and consumer demands driving higher ethical performance and transparency. In recent years, this has triggered a domino effect, with more and more brands changing their sourcing, manufacturing and commercial practices to satisfy more expectant consumers. Nestlé and Cadbury's recent introductions of Fairtrade certification for some of the nation's favourite confectionery are good cases in point.
Brands such as Innocent and The Body Shop used to stand out for their ethical and green reputations. But sustainability is now a criteria all brands must meet, rather than a USP. And after Copenhagen failed to live up to many people's expectations, there is even more need for companies to step up to the mark.
But as consumers become more wary of claims and 'greenwash', how can brands establish their difference and stand out from the crowd?
Ongoing innovation is a good place to start. At Tetra Pak, our recent roll-out of FSC-certified cartons in the UK created a real buzz, while elsewhere the reductions in Easter egg packaging and Kenco's introduction of a new Eco Refill pack format for its coffee back in October also impressed green consumers.
It is also crucial to take a fresh approach to marketing to stay ahead of the competition. At Tetra Pak we have just launched a three-year partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), focused on changing consumer behaviour. We will be 'crowd sourcing' solutions, asking consumers to tell us their ideas to get people to live and act renewably. From a marketing point of view, crowd-sourcing is emerging as a great means of consumer engagement, and as an incentive we'll be offering a prize of up to £25,000 for the best strategy, as well as donating money to a WWF project for every idea submitted and vote cast.
Partnerships like this are not just a good way of reassuring consumers of the project's authenticity. More importantly, through collaboration with the WWF, we have increased consumer participation and gained a better chance of meeting our joint objective of getting people to think, act and purchase more renewably.
Of course, these initiatives must be backed up by a track record of delivery and agreed commitments. Companies risk long-term damage if they make promises they can't keep. What's more, it is important that promises extend beyond the present. Increasingly, consumers are looking for the one-year, three year and even 10-year pictures.
Working with stakeholder groups, government departments and expert committees remains important. However, innovation in marketing and communications will be key to taking sustainability to a new audience creating honest, consumer-relevant campaigns that touch consumer's lives and, ultimately, change lifestyles and behaviour.
Rupert Maitland-Titterton is director of environment and communications at Tetra Pak UK & Ireland.