Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, has always had a passion for fighting injustice.
In 2012 she started a blog sharing stories of tackling companies with poor customer service. It grew into advising consumers and then businesses. This was due to her experience, skills and having the ear of thousands of consumers and knowing what they want to experience in complaint handling and customer service.
Author of two best-selling books, reports and a wealth of media coverage, Helen helps both directors and senior staff in large corporates and small businesses to improve complaint handling through understanding customer perspectives and through challenge so as to gain and retain customers. She help turn them into superfans who rave and refer more custom.
Earth Day – making a difference with your shopping habits
Today (22/04/22) is Earth Day. The Theme is “Invest In Our Planet. What Will You Do?”
Most people understand that we have a climate change problem in the world. Most of those people understand we need to change our habits to make a difference.
But whilst people are struggling to pay bills, how environmentally conscious are we, what can we do more of and how should businesses improve?
I have been talking to consumers to find out more about what they are doing and how people can follow suit.
What shopping habits are consumers changing?
There are some common themes to what consumers feel able to do more
People are increasingly using charity shops, and sites like Facebook, eBay, Gumtree and Freecycle. Ruth Bradford says that there are fantastic charity shops about and amazing apps/websites now that make it as easy as buying from stores/online. She states that there is “No excuse really, just a mindset shift. I’ve barely bought anything new for a good 5 years now and have some amazing finds from our local charity shops I would never have normally bought.”
Polly Arrowsmith buys secondhand designer items, arguing that it is even more cost effective as items last longer and works out the “per wear” cost of each item. For example, her Chanel bags were £3,300 and now are worth £6,500 each. She uses her mini patent leather Chanel bag daily.
“It cost £1,800 and to replace it would be £4,000. Price per wear- less than £1. It still looks good, and I could resell it.”
Arrowsmith worked for Prada and knows their ecological footprint and that their human resources are based in Europe. “There is no slave labour with some designers. I do not want to rely on companies that exploit people or pollute the waters”.
Eating food in season
With improving education in this area it is something that people are learning to do more often. Jennifer Mathisen says she tries to purchase food as seasonally as possible, whilst also buying locally.
Soft, exotic fruits and out of season vegetables spoil quickly and so are frequently transported by aeroplanes, increasing Greenhouse Gas emissions. Often grown in heated greenhouses, extra energy is used to grow out of season Mediterranean style produce around Europe.
A study in June 2020 undertaken by the European Consumers Organization (BEUC) found that “two-thirds of consumers are open to changing their eating habits for environmental reasons, with many willing to waste less food at home, buy more seasonal fruit and vegetables and eat more plant-based foods.”
You can use the European Food Information Council’s interactive fruit and vegetable map to find out what fruit and vegetables are in season where in the world.
These are increasing in number and popularity. Twenty Per Cent blogger, Katie Royals, says that she has a refill shop in the next town to her and goes when she can. “It can be a bit more expensive but you can get only what you need so there’s less waste and you’re not paying for things you don’t end up using! (Just don’t forget your containers!)”
During the pandemic we saw an increase in people trying to do this to support small businesses, as well as using the most of the convenience and customer service that local shops provide.
Shop Local Online is a website and there is an app available too. It enables local independent shops and businesses to show information, products and services they have for sale in your town or city in one place. You can browse, makes lists for later and find out about small businesses in your local area and use when travelling round the country too.
Reducing food waste
Writing menus for the week before shopping is something more people are doing, as it is also helps money as you buy what you need not food out of habit or tempted to buy because it is on offer. The number of people reducing or stopping eating meat is still a relatively small proportion of the population.
A YouGov tracker shows vegans making up 2-3% of the population and the vegetarian population at about 5-7%. But a YouGov survey of 1000 vegetarians and vegans in January of this year, revealed that 63% of vegans started in the last five years. Although 81% graduated from vegetarianism, so many have been avoiding meat for much longer than this. 46% of vegetarians cut out all meat from their diet in the last five years.
Zoe Morrison blogger and author of Eco Thrifty Living: Save Money, Save the Environment and Live the Life You Want* advises getting an Oddbox delivery. “They deliver surplus and wonky fruit and veg boxes. I reduce packaging by avoiding single serving packaged items where possible. E.g. I buy my kids one big pot of yoghurt and they have some in small bowls when they want it, rather than individual pots.”
Reducing plastic use
This is the top habit in which consumers are engaging. A Deloitte study in 2021 Shifting sands: Are consumers still embracing sustainability? found that “avoiding single-use plastics is the most common way consumers demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, with 61% saying they have cut back.”
What do businesses need to do to help consumers shop in a more environmentally friendly way?
Consumers want to see businesses make changes to a host of things to help them become more green in their shopping habits.
Greenwashing – where a business presents itself as being eco-friendly when it isn’t.- is becoming an increasing problem. (In the last few years a number of companies have been called out for greenwashing.)
Consumers want to see businesses being more transparent about their green credentials. They understand that not all businesses will have it all perfect or be at Net Zero but they want to see them working to improve. Honesty and transparency about what they are doing and working towards will encourage consumers to shop more with these businesses than those that are greenwashing, as consumers become wiser around the issues.
The Deloitte study found that consumers want to do more but many want brands to take the lead, with “64% of consumers wanting brands to reduce packaging, 50% want information on how to recycle and 46% need clarity on sourcing of products.”
It also discovered that 28% of consumers “stopped buying certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns.”
Businesses and the future
The Dragon’s Den star, Deborah Meaden, emphasises environmental and sustainable concerns for consumers, saying that they are “increasingly making their buying choices within their values system and sustainability is right up there at the forefront.”
It is quite clear that businesses need to do more to listen to consumer feedback. The financial equation for businesses is simple. They need to understand that if they do not do more to help consumers purchase green products and services, then it could easily cost them more in lost sales than investing in making the necessary changes.
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