CX Climate Crisis Sustainability

How brands can avoid ‘unsustainable CX’

By Rachel Hatton



The Drum Network article

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March 25, 2022 | 6 min read

The Paris Agreement needs us to limit global warming to 2°C or less. To achieve this, the UN states that greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions no later than 2050. Rachel Hatton, chief strategy officer of Oliver, talks about why businesses and brands must reach net zero.

OLIVER on why brands and marketers need to act now to transform their sustainability offerings.

Oliver on why brands and marketers need to act now to transform their sustainability offerings

As a marketer, working for a business committed to the Ad Net Zero pledge, I’m aware of my role in reaching Oliver’s net zero goals.

But as marketers we know that achieving net zero presents a tricky paradox.

Work by Purpose Disruptors and Magic Numbers reveals that advertising adds 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every single person in the UK.

And yet our job is to create demand.

If we’re good at our jobs, we create demand and build a customer experience (CX) that simplifies how people buy more from brands.

We create seamless online shopping experiences, and compress the customer journey to enable people to discover, engage with and buy a brand – but is it having unintended consequences?

The rise of ‘unsustainable CX’

Today, the CX of many leading brands (especially those with ‘click and pay’ experiences) is so seamless that shoppers find themselves ‘sleep-shopping’; not considering their total spend or whether they need the product, let alone the ethics of the service or the brand’s environmental credentials.

Brits lose £33.5m pounds a year by shopping online for items they don’t need, with 55% blaming the ease of experience as the reason they made the purchase. They risk not just money but time; 77% of shoppers claim that returning items is too time-consuming. Unwanted items hit the environment hardest.

We’re becoming aware of the persuasive power of our social feeds. The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt had 4bn engagements in one month last year.

Our quest for great CX risks making brands more unsustainable. But what can we do?

CX that helps customers behave better

Creating an unsustainable CX is rarely the intention of marketers and brands. However, we must become aware of its existence; so how can we turn unsustainable CX into CX for good?

Everyone can win in the race to cut carbon, without compromising on value creation. It starts with listening to the customer.

According to Pew Research, 82% of people in developed economies are willing to change their livelihoods to reduce the effects of climate change. But the perceived high prices of sustainable brands, and lack of information and education, stand in the way. It needs to be less cumbersome for people to behave sustainably.

We need to use all the tools and tricks of seamless CX to nudge people toward more sustainable choices – harnessing our understanding of behavioral psychology and our mastery of persuasive design to create frictionless user journeys.

CX strategy gives us the opportunity to create sustainable change, but how can we put it into practice?

Three steps to making seamless CX into sustainable CX

1. Identify your fight

Every brand needs to identify its fight in the road to net zero. Doing so starts with deciding how to help people make more sustainable purchases. Think Patagonia, which has business practices and values that put sustainability at the core. Think Vanish, which is encouraging people to re-wear their wardrobe. Think Hellmann’s, which is fighting food waste. Brands need to consider how they will measure their impact.

2. Enable self awareness

Brands need to think how they can tap into people’s existing desire to consume more sustainably. How can they help people be more conscious of their choices? NatWest’s carbon footprint calculator estimates the impact of people’s spending on the environment. Gousto’s delivery boxes show the carbon saved by the use of their locally-sourced ingredients.

3. Sustainable by default

Our ‘System 1’ brain seeks mental shortcuts to simplify purchasing decisions. We can use our armory of CX tools and practices to drive sustainability by default. Behavioral heuristics such as priming, framing and social proof are powerful in getting people to press the ‘buy now’ button, and can be used to get people to choose sustainability.

Google, Meta and Amazon play their role in the discovery of new brands, products and services. Their data, algorithms and services can enable people to choose more sustainable products. Imagine Google Shopping serving environmentally-friendly products first in the carousel. Or Amazon offering the most sustainable fulfillment option by default.

Marketers and brands are trying to ensure seamless shopping experiences, but we have to be mindful of the impact it is having. There’s a long way to go before our CX practices align with our sustainability objectives. But with search and social platforms becoming the new face of fast e-commerce, we have a good starting point.

Can seamless CX shift away from being simply sales-led? Can it become part of a brand’s authentic journey toward net zero?

The opportunity for brands to employ sustainable CX is huge. Brands need to help customers make better choices. Easy? Arguably not. Necessary? 100%, yes.

CX Climate Crisis Sustainability

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