Communicating Authentic Sustainability Stories with Bluebird's Jamie McCroskery
From carbon footprint to circularity, sustainability buzzwords have entered the DTC founder’s everyday vocabulary and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Today’s emerging brands are making bold sustainable claims, especially the ones targeting young consumers. According to a First Insight study, Gen Z is 73% more likely to pay 10% or more for sustainable goods.
For any new personal care or apparel brand launching in today’s landscape, sustainability is practically table stakes. So, how can brands tell if they’re actually making a difference and driving long-term growth? And, how can they communicate their sustainability journey to customers?
Bluebird is making it easier to produce low carbon and sustainable goods while helping brands communicate the sustainability of their products back to customers. Working with cutting-edge upstarts (Dieux Skin, Plus) to more established brands (Beautycounter, Glossier), their team is on a mission to decarbonize the consumer products industry.
To better understand how brands can measure their own sustainability efforts and authentically communicate those practices with customers, we chatted with Jamie McCroskery, cofounder of Bluebird.
The New Era of Sustainability
According to a recent Deloitte survey, climate change/protecting the environment is Gen Z’s number one concern.
Brands know that younger customers care about sustainability, yet they have no clue where to start or even how to measure the work they’re already doing.
In terms of understanding their own environmental impact, brands have no information. They’re trusting vendors. They’re hiring consultants. But, they don’t know what’s really going on and how to tell those sustainability stories to customers.
They’re building out an easy way to diagnose a single product, so brands can better understand the sustainable impact they’re driving and how to best communicate that with customers.
“It’s all about getting an end-to-end view of your materials, transportation, manufacturing, and packaging. You can’t do that with some online calculator,” says Jamie.
Bluebird’s core technology helps brands approximate carbon emissions and product circularity. Their software is especially helpful for brands within apparel and beauty/personal care—two of the top ten carbon-emitting supply chains in the world.
Most personal care brands have been building out products the same way for as long as they can remember.
Now, due to the sustainability wave in ecommerce, they have to learn and internalize a new skill set, which includes carbon measurements and recyclability analysis.
“You need real-time information about sustainability. With data, you can understand how you’re doing and how to start talking about sustainability with your customers.”
Getting Started: A Gut Check on Sustainability
At its core, Bluebird is a software company—internalizing sustainability knowledge and creating algorithms that assess the sustainability of materials at scale.
Every brand has their own sustainability story.
For some of Bluebird’s clients, sustainability is the cornerstone of their entire brand (i.e. Plus), but that’s not the case for everyone.
For that reason, the Bluebird team always starts with a high-level orientation about sustainability—what it means, buzzwords, and best practices.
When they’re partnering with beauty/personal care brands, most of that conversation revolves around carbon emissions and circularity—two of the biggest environmental issues in that space.
Next, the team dives into their entire supply chain and creates a roadmap for improving and ultimately communicating sustainability practices back to the customer.
That storytelling component is at the heart of Bluebird’s work today.
“We help brands authentically live out their values and communicate their good work back to the customer. Customers can see the data, so they’re not just taking the brand’s word for it.”
Sustainability Drivers, Obstacles, and Opportunities
Regulation is one of the top sustainability drivers, which doesn’t exist in the United States today.
But, it exists in Europe. Just in cosmetics alone, the EU has banned 1,000+ harmful chemicals.
The US is lagging behind. And, that’s in part because sustainability—especially packaging—is hard to get right.
Jamie says, “The whole market around recycled plastic infrastructure is absolutely wild.”
A few years back, the price of recycled plastic was much lower because it was seen as an “inferior product.” But, now companies are buying up all the PCR in the world, and smaller brands can’t hit minimums or even get reasonable prices.
Packaging is what consumers see and expect as it relates to sustainability efforts. But, in some cases, supply chain improvements are even more impactful than eco-friendly packaging. It’s just invisible to the consumer.
“If you look at the average consumer brand’s carbon emissions profile, most of that number comes from hidden things in the supply chain. Those are actually way easier to change and even more cost-efficient,” says Jamie.
In addition to marketing, down the line, Bluebird hopes to help brands source, produce, and transport low-carbon products. As more brands join the platform, the Bluebird team can negotiate on the brand’s behalf since they’re all buying the same thing.
“Authentic storytelling leads to retention benefits. Either, consumers will feel a warm glow around your product, knowing they made a good choice, or there’ll be a brand-level perception benefit.”
Driving Value and Growth via Authenticity
Bluebird is democratizing access to sustainability tools, so small and medium-sized brands have the same sustainability capabilities as the big guys.
Right now, they’re honing in on telling those authentic, sustainability stories. From their research, they know that when companies act authentically and live out their values, there’s clear positive feedback from customers and retailers.
For some of their clients, they’ve even seen them get way better placement in retailers—because of their authenticity.
The long-term value of sustainability can also be seen through the lens of post-purchase emails. For example, an email that says, “Hey, you made a good choice. Here’s why your purchase is impactful,” can help build trust with a customer. Plus, it leads to that warm glow customers feel when they know they made a good decision.
Those direct improvements impact a brand’s bottom line. Research from NYU Stern shows that from 2015 to 2019, “Sustainably-marketed products grew 7.1x faster than products not marketed as sustainable.”
“People aren’t doing sustainability because it’s going to move metrics immediately. It’s something that customers are asking for, and it’ll lead to value and growth down the line.”
Looking Toward a Sustainable Future
Across the production of sustainable goods, there’s innovation happening everywhere.
New technologies are sprouting up. Now, brands have way more opportunities to differentiate themselves in the market and make real, meaningful improvements.
Plus, the innovative companies producing low-carbon plastics need small brands in order to scale their technology before it’s ready for the Unilevers of the world.
Some brands might think that post-consumer recycled plastic is the only option. But, there’s actually tons of exciting stuff happening behind packaging—and that includes Bluebird’s work.
“From raw materials to formula to packaging to transportation, there’s innovation happening everywhere.”
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