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May 7, 2020

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, management consultancy Kearney conducted a survey of consumer attitudes toward sustainability and environmental impact twice, once on March 6 and again on April 10, to see if COVID-19 had changed their sentiment.

Greg Portell, lead partner in in Kearney’s global consumer practice, summed up the results:

“In the middle of a pandemic we see consumers telling us—loudly and clearly—that it’s not enough to cut a check to an environmental organization or have some polished messaging in the annual report. What’s important here is executing against those lofty positions in the form of very tactical solutions consumers will perceive as authentic during and after COVID-19. Consumers demand a lot more out of the companies they support.”

Corey Chafin, a principle in Kearney’s global consumer practice, further acknowledged the change in consumer behavior from COVID-19:

“This year we see consumers expressing a more direct link between their health and the health of the planet. This tells us consumers’ pro-environmental sentiments are more than idealistic assertions. When it comes to the environment, consumers mean business.”

According to the survey, 78% of consumers believe companies could do more to help them make decisions that improve environmental outcomes and 65% of consumers expect companies to clearly explain environmental benefits on product labels and websites.

Retailers heeding the call

Recent media coverage exemplifies the trends driving green-focused customers. They include coverage of the circular economy (where a brand takes responsibility for its products from sourcing through disposal and reuse) to the positive environmental impacts of the pandemic (such as  when nature taking over in Mumbai, India thousands of flamingos began congregating in desolate urban spaces, to unprecedented declines in air pollution in major global cities).

Some retailers at the vanguard have supported ethical and sustainable consumerism from the start:

  • REI: Every year, REI publishes a stewardship report to highlight their commitment to sustainability with initiatives that include extending the lifespan of their products by selling used gear and rentals, rewilding urban areas by transforming them into areas for outdoor recreation and establishing sustainability standards for all products and brands so customers can search for products based on sustainability.
  • Patagonia: The outdoor and adventure-wear brand, Patagonia, boldly states their commitment to protecting the earth on their home page- “We’re in business to save our home planet. We aim to use the resources we have—our voice, our business, and our community—to do something about our climate crisis.” Patagonia’s self-imposed Earth tax, 1% for the planet, provides environmental nonprofits with funding to protect the earth. The company develops sustainable products that use cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and materials made from recycled fabrics. In addition, Patagonia creates quality products to last and offers a repair and reuse program. Because of these and other initiatives, Patagonia rates high on  ‘Good on You’ , a world-leading source of trusted brand ratings and guides on ethical, sustainable fashion.
  • Pact: Pact’s home page headline, ‘Earths Favorite Clothing’, prominently highlights their commitment to the environment. All their products are made from certified organic cotton in Fair Trade factories. Pact encourages shoppers to think about the impact of their purchases and they make that easier by offering transparency from how their products are made with no chemicals, harsh dyes or pesticide to working with Fair Trade factories that treat workers well.

As more consumers buy for purpose driven reasons, retailers must respond with green-focused products and experiences if they are to survive in the current and post-COVID-19 world.

Steps to get started

The first step in owning the pro-environment customer is to make a commitment to sustainability and transparency through measurable strategies like the companies mentioned above have done.

The second step to is understand customer needs and beliefs, and deliver experiences that support their values and broader goals. To achieve this step, retailers need an agile data management and customer analytics platform that enables them to discover dynamic customer personas.

That’s because many retailers today still use traditional, static personas based on stereotypes that are no longer effective in a world where customer behaviors, needs and preferences change at record speed (whether caused by a pandemic or the latest Internet meme, it doesn’t matter).

To build lasting loyalty, retailers need data driven, automated persona discovery that spans customers physical and digital journeys. These new, dynamic personas can help identify “green” buyers, but also to subsegment them into dark green or light green, resource conservation, health, animal, or nature people.

The third step is to deliver memorable, personalized experiences that appeal to customers personal values and goals in the sustainability space based on the data you have mined and analyzed using sophisticated algorithms and large data sets to create dynamic customer personas.

Here are some brainstorming ideas to share with your teams:

  • What if every product you sold had a “green” metric (based on how the product is sourced, how much energy it take to manufacture, how recyclable it is, etc.) associated with it to help with their purchase decision?
  • What if you offered carbon offsets as part of the purchase price?
  • What if you offered sustainability awards to your suppliers, demonstrating you are aware that systemic changes are needed?
  • What if you donated to a specific segment’s—such as the nature lover—favorite green charity with every purchase, demonstrating you know them well enough to know what charities they want to support?

Delivering innovative, environmentally friendly customer experiences can turn a retailer from one vendor among many, competing on price and product, to giving consumers emotional reasons to stay loyal. By showing them how well you know them, and delivering added value in an area they value, you shift the relationship from transactional to trusted.  All this, while also doing the right thing by the environment.

Not all customer analytics software can help you segment your audiences by how green they are, but TCS offers a solution that can. Contact a TCS Digital Software & Solutions retail specialist today.


Kathleen Holm is Marketing Director of the TCS Digital Software & Solutions (DS&S) Group. She has more than 25 years of experience marketing technology software and services to enterprises worldwide. She leverages her extensive background in enterprise software technology to help organizations develop effective marketing strategies, create targeted messaging and positioning, and implement effective go-to-market plans to improve corporate performance. Prior to joining TCS, Kathleen was a Senior Principal of technical product marketing for Oracle Fusion Middleware where she was responsible for defining the marketing strategy based on industry maturity and customer trends. She also held positions at IBM including Market Manager for WebSphere Developer Programs, Market Manager for Tivoli Integrated Service Management and Tivoli Brand Specialist. Prior to joining IBM, Kathleen worked with four high-tech startups.


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