Transparency means business in the Covid age

category - covid-19
sector - fashion
sector - retail
type - opinion
Covid-19 brings an opportunity for brands to radicalise a generation of recycling moderates into consumers that demand transparency from retail brands

Many of the world’s ecosystems have felt the impact of Covid-19 induced lockdowns. It’s not just the newsworthy ecosystems like the canals in Venice that suddenly cleared up earlier this summer, or the Hong Kong harbour where locals recently celebrated the return of dolphins. It’s also those less mediagenic habitats a little closer to home – the bins in our own boring backyards, for example.

Because they have witnessed our behavioural changes first-hand. Ever since shopping at the local convenience store became a potential super spreader event, people have changed their lives in ways that impact the environment, both positively and negatively. And the effects of our shopping and consumption behaviours have become more noticeable.

Let’s take a look at this through the life of an archetypical UK family that has adhered to the government’s stay-at-home orders. We have a full-time working mother, let’s call her Helen, and her stay-at-home partner, Amol, who has been looking after their five-year-old daughter, Alice.

Life has changed for these folks in small but meaningful ways that go way beyond not seeing granny and forfeiting this year’s holiday. Take Helen’s breakfast and lunch habit. She used to grab a coffee and a sandwich at her local Pret-a-Manger on the way to work but these days she is producing a seemingly endless quantity of Nespresso capsules. She feels OK about this because she’s read article after article about the brand’s recycling scheme: this transparency sits well with her.

The positive energy Helen gains from not having to throw away a sandwich wrapper every day is balanced out by a stack of packaging materials that is piling up in a corner of the backyard. There’s HelloFresh boxes; Waitrose delivery boxes. Amazon and Tesco packaging. Amol’s trips to the recycling centre are becoming more frequent – but hey, at least they know what to do with all their cardboard.

Published by:

2 November 2020

Author: Tyler Chaffo

Image: Burberry Voyage by IBM’s Extreme Blue & Burberry, UK. Burberry worked with IBM's Extreme Blue interns on a sustainability prototype to trace products using the cloud and block chain.


Fasson Crush Citrus labelling by Avery Dennison

But when it comes to what’s inside these boxes the lines of good and bad become even more blurred. After reading up about unsustainable palm oil plantations in Indonesia, Amol has become the household’s palm oil police and can’t seem to stop finding it in food, cosmetics and even cleaning products. He also started buying himself clothes made of fibre grown in regenerative ways whenever he can, which made him more aware of how Alice’s £3 playground sweatpants really only seem to last a couple of washing cycles.

Helen, meanwhile, keeps stumbling on stories such as how labels made of citrus juice residue allow upcycling, and has started scouting for products that feel more in line with her values. Because why not buy stuff that might not negatively impact Alice’s future?

Covid-19 has made our dirty habits more visible and, in a sense, it has radicalised a large group of people that used to be recycling moderates. They’re people like Amol and Helen who, when confronted with the amount of plastic they produce, are now scouring labels to try and minimise their family footprint. And when presented with a clear choice, they will pick the less impactful option, often regardless of the extra cost, trouble or longer delivery time.

What people like Helen and Amol are ultimately craving is transparency. They find comfort in the fact that the consequences of their actions are clear so they can make informed decisions. For brands this represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sway a demographic that is usually already set in their ways. For example: the supermarket that implements touchless tech in a way that minimises food waste and then manages to communicate that story in a concise way, will come out on top.

Transparency is now central to society – not just a wishy-washy afterthought. Innovating, implementing and telling that story and involving customers in the correct will be crucial in the inter- and post-Covid world.

Tyler Chaffo is manager of global sustainability at multinational manufacturer Avery Dennison, which recently released a transparency trend report.

Become an LS:N Global member today to access research on the Covid-19 and the future of retail.

‘People are craving transparency. They find comfort in the fact that the consequences of their actions are clear’
Tyler Chaffo, manager of global sustainability, Avery Dennison

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