Branded sustainability training

May 31, 2019

GDR’s John O’Sullivan explores how brands are helping their customers to live more sustainable lives.

Sustainability has become one of the hottest topics for brands, retailers and consumers over the last couple of years. Brands are rethinking every element of their ingredients, their processes and logistics to become more eco-conscious and we’re seeing a lot of truly innovative and disruptive new propositions emerge, such as Loop and P&G’s DS3. Existing practices which pre-date the current sustainability movement but that use less plastic or water and produce less waste are also being rebadged as sustainable.

Beyond rethinking or reframing their own proposition, another key lever for brands in this space is to act as a mentor, helping customers to meet their own personal sustainability goals. We’ve seen this approach before in healthy eating and exercise, which are both areas where, for many people, there is a gap between their aspirations and the knowledge they need to get there. The same is true for sustainability, creating an opportunity for brands to step into.

In this article I want to explore three key ways brands are doing this.


1) Incentivising sustainable buying

Ant Forest


A number of existing brands and startups are starting to reward customers for making more sustainable buying decisions.

Ant Forest is a digital feature within Alibaba’s payment app Alipay. Every time an Alipay user is deemed to have done something low-carbon (this could be walking or cycling instead of driving, recycling or reselling used clothes through Alibaba’s Idle Fish second hand marketplace, or reducing their energy usage) they receive Green Energy Points. These can be used to plant digital trees in the Ant Forest game and, remarkably, for every tree planted in the game Ant Financial (Alipay’s parent company) plants a tree in real life. To date more than 100 million trees have been planted across China.

Miles is a startup based on a similar principle. Users receive points, or miles, every time they travel, but they receive more points for more sustainable modes of transport. These miles can then be exchanged for discounts at participating retailers. Miles doesn’t pass on any personal data to its partners but, interestingly, it does sell aggregated behavioural data that helps retailers to create a predictive footfall analysis.

Disruptive e-commerce marketplace – which has long-since been acquired by Walmart – took a very different approach to incentivising sustainable decision-making at launch. Clearly going after Amazon’s no-questions-asked quick delivery solutions, Jet uses easy-to-understand graphics to educate customers about how they could save money by putting less stress on the company’s fulfilment system. For example, it rewarded customers with discounts if they were willing to wait longer for delivery, buy products all housed in the same warehouse, or waive their rights to return.


2) Tracking sustainability

Doconomy introduces the idea that many customers are simply unaware of, or find it difficult to track, how sustainable their shopping habits actually are. This is another way that brands, specifically finance brands, are starting to lend a hand.

Two years ago we covered Finnish bank Ålandsbanken’s Baltic Sea Card, which lets customers track their consumption habits and offset the carbon footprint of their purchases. Each user has access to a personalised environmental report through their mobile banking app and, when paying their credit card bill, they have the option to make an additional payment to offset their estimated carbon footprint.

Ålandsbanken is now one of the main collaborators in a Swedish Fintech startup called Doconomy, which is set to launch this summer. Based on the same principles and using the now-patented Åland Index to calculate the environmental impact of each purchase, Doconomy will link its customers with UN-certified carbon offset projects and sustainable investment funds which they can back to offset their own carbon footprint.

US-based credit card company Aspiration helps its customers to track the carbon footprint of their spending while incentivising more sustainable purchases. The app quantifies the impact each user’s spending has on people and the planet, but it also offers bonus rewards and cash-back for purchases made at socially-conscious businesses.

Taking the eco-friendly angle even further, Aspiration also guarantees that it will not use its customers’ deposit money to invest in non-sustainable industries such as oil drilling.


3) Making sustainability easy

Reformation Climate Credits


For consumers wanting to offset their carbon footprint without having to change their behaviours or engage too much, eco-conscious LA-based fashion brand Reformation has a new solution. The brand claims to have been carbon neutral since 2015 and now, with its Climate Credits scheme, is helping to make its customers carbon neutral too.

Customers can buy Carbon Credits on its website, which Reformation uses to support Gold Standard-verified clean energy and carbon-reducing projects globally. The first project it is backing is the Honduras Coffee Growers Clean Water Project. The lifestyle-focused credits available include: ‘Family Intervention’ for $400, which offsets an average family’s environmental impact for 12 months, ‘Self Help’ for $120, which offsets an individual’s impact for 12 months, ‘Cancel The Wedding’ for $160, which offsets an average wedding, and ‘Across The Pond’ for $20, which offsets an international flight.

While airlines have been offering to offset the carbon footprint of flying for years, Reformation is providing lifestyle support linked to products and activities that have little or nothing to do with the brand. What I find particularly interesting is the way that Reformation, an early proponent of sustainability, is upping the ante to stay ahead of the curve as other brands catch up.

While it is essential for brands and retailers to consider how they can make every touchpoint and offer more sustainable, they should also be thinking about how they can play a role in helping their customers to meet their own sustainability targets.


If you’d like to talk to us about how your brand could learn from these principles and use them to improve your service offer, this is exactly the type of project we work with our clients on. Drop Kate an email at

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