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Aspirational Consumers and the Environment

Contact Author Jennifer Donahue, Croda International
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  • Aspirational consumers are concerned with social, environmental and material concerns.
  • Advocate consumers are less concerned with materialism, but are concerned about social and environmental issues.
  • Socially responsible brands targeting advocate and aspirational consumers will outperform those that are conventionally positioned.
  • Formulations for sustainable brands will increasingly comprise ingredients produced from non-petrochemical sources.
  • The use of certifications can reassure consumers that they are purchasing responsible products.

The aspirational consumer is the new driving force of the economy, according to BBMG. The brand innovation consultancy notes that 39% of consumers identify with this group and are concerned with both social and environmental values, as well as materialism.

These “happy shoppers” are looking to buy from companies that provide a story that appeals to their desire to improve overall social wellbeing while protecting or improving the environment. In addition, 53% of aspirationals would buy more sustainable products if it connected them to a community of peers with shared values. The second largest consumer group, the advocates, is less concerned with materialism but score just as high on social and environmental values.

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BBMG studies show that aspirationals and advocates combined account for 65% of consumers, so it is no surprise that socially responsible brands are outperforming the rest.

For example, “Unilever reported that their brands with the strongest sustainability credentials—such as Dove, Lifebouy, Ben & Jerry’s and Comfort—have seen sales grow at high single digit or double digit growth over the last three years,” according to a May 2015 Reuters story by Martinne Geller.

Socially responsible consumer companies need partners across the supply chain, including ingredient manufacturers. For instance, Croda International PLC is focused on sustainability across all aspects of its business by utilizing sustainable feed stocks in new and existing product development, optimizing its manufacturing processes within the company’s plants, and reducing its overall environmental impact.

Product Design

Croda sources about 70% of its raw materials from natural, renewable sources, while the “12 Principles of Green Chemistry” play a central role in product design. In 2014, the average score for new products compared against the 12 principles was 10.7; 48% of development met all criteria. Recognizing the consumer need for more sustainable products, Croda has started to measure its progress toward its own 13th Principle: the product affords a sustainability benefit to the customer directly, or to their customers at some point in the value chain.

Today, Croda’s product development efforts are focused on using the most naturally derived raw materials available, as well as innovative production approaches such as marine biotechnology.

Novel Manufacturing Practices

Ideally the aspirational consumer would like to have as much choice as possible when it comes to his or her personal care routine. There are plenty of niche brands on the market positioned to the natural-seeking consumer, but sustainable solutions for the mass market offerings is a real market need.

The workhorse products that consumers use to cleanse their bodies are based on chemistries derived from ethylene oxide, which has traditionally been petrochemical-based. Recently, Croda announced that its Atlas Point manufacturing site will produce 100% sustainable non-ionic surfactants using ethylene oxide derived from bio-ethanol rather than petrochemicals.

These sustainable non-ionic surfactants will perform as well as non-sustainable options. This initiative will reduce the use of fossil fuels by moving away from traditional petrochemical-derived ingredients and create a large portfolio of sustainably produced ingredients to be used across many industries.

Consumers are demanding full transparency, which means that brands are working more closely with their raw ingredient suppliers to understand how a product is sourced and/or manufactured. The advances in energy conservation, in addition to the increase in natural feedstocks, make this a great story to share with consumers.

In 2014, eight Croda manufacturing sites sent no waste to landfill, and the Atlas Point site is using reclaimed landfill gas to power its operations. Many sites are also harnessing natural energy from the sun and wind with solar panels and wind turbines. In 2014, Croda as a whole eliminated 40,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of taking 24,328 cars off the road.

Product Stewardship & Certifications: Palm Oil

Certifications can reassure consumers that they are purchasing products that meet the qualifications that they desire and value. There are many certification organizations, like EcoCert/Cosmos and the Natural Products Association (NPA), that assure a product complies with requirements specified in a standard or benchmark for the natural composition of the raw ingredients within a formulation; however, with the large number of certifications and lack of harmonization of the standards, there is a lot of consumer confusion.

Applying a simple harmonized standard could make natural and sustainable cosmetics more accessible to consumers. For example, the social and environmental issues associated with palm oil (PO) and palm kernel oil (PKO) have recently gained significant attention. About 70% of personal care products contain PO/PKO derivatives. Emotional commercials, such as “A Cheesy Love Story," are designed to publicly call out corporations that do not have a responsible palm oil sourcing strategy.

Therefore, supporting RSPO principles is an important advancement in the quest to deliver sustainable products to the socially concerned consumer. In the personal care industry, being a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and adhering to its goals are a must. Companies such as Croda are taking an additional progressive step by adopting the RSPO’s mass balance system, supporting the palm oil physical supply chain and creating momentum toward segregated sustainable PO and PKO material.

Seven of the company’s manufacturing sites are RSPO Supply Chain Certified to handle sustainable PO/PKO derivatives via mass balance, handling more than 80% of its global palm derivatives. This allows customers around the world to purchase more than 100 different chemistries, helping to support a supply chain based on sustainably sourced PO/PKO.

Benefit for Brands

Even the smallest personal care brands can make a large positive impact with their socially minded messaging. Since the late 1970s, the beauty segment has lead the way for promoting social change. From the start, the Body Shop was making social and political statements. Conversely, multinational brands can be an easy target for NGOs—if they fall behind in their commitments to social and environmental causes.

There is an opportunity to build a much deeper relationship with aspirational consumers by honoring their universal desire to drive significant behavior change, business growth and positive social impact.