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Brands Tout Sustainability as Kids are ‘Voting with Their Wallets’ image

Brands Tout Sustainability as Kids are ‘Voting with Their Wallets’

Sustainability continues to advance as a prominent purchase consideration, and brand owners and licensees are reacting.

Children and their parents are “voting with their wallets” when it comes to buying products that address environmental concerns, said Jonathan Watson, Chief Products Officer at the research firm The Insights Family, during a Licensing International webinar earlier this month.

Meanwhile, companies of all sorts are positioning environmental consciousness as a core corporate value. Smiley is launching an extensive “Future Positive” sustainability campaign in 2023 with up to 50 licensees as a follow-up to its 50th anniversary celebration next year where the company is  planning shop-in-shops for products in 92 department stores in 16 countries, involving 66 global brands.

Establishing guidelines
In assembling its program, Smiley identified about 1,000 companies that design and sustainably manufactured products, including 10%-20% of its more than 420 licensees. While there’s no contractual language for the participating licensees, the agreements are being made with “very specific” guidelines covering everything from design and development through final production and packaging, says CEO Nicolas Loufrani.

The trend toward consumer making environmentally-conscious buying decisions (i.e.  purchasing apparel made with recycled materials or toys made from plant-based materials) comes as children themselves have become sustainability advocates, Watson said.

Kids are heard
For example, the UK supermarket chain Waitrose earlier this year stopped selling children’s magazines with disposable plastic toys amid calls from children, including a 10-year-old girl, to stop the promotion. Overall, 58% of U.S. children surveyed weighed sustainability in making their buying decisions, followed by China (55%), Australia (52%) and Mexico and Brazil (45% each).

“Children are driving change with their wallets in deciding what they are buying and with youth advocacy as well,” Watson said citing results from a recent global survey of 3-12-year-olds. “We saw kids have strong values and buying power themselves. More importantly they increasingly have power within the household over TV viewing, toys and other products [even in such high-ticket categories as kitchen appliances and cars]. They are the ones driving change and parents need to listen to them as well. Every brand needs to become a ‘family brand,’” given that 79% of the parents surveyed take their children’s concerns into consideration in making buying decisions.

Climate change/environment was ranked among the top issues in the survey despite that fact children take a more abstract view of the issue in listing concerns about animals and the ocean as motivators.  “The fact that something as big picture, abstract and long term as climate change/environment is a concern shows how seriously they [children]are taking it,” Watson said.

Smiley’s Loufrani acknowledges that the business and societal forces at play aren’t necessarily as straightforward as they seem. “On the supplier side, some companies are very much into sustainable products, but others only see there is demand from consumers and are scared of missing a trend and not appearing to care about the environment,” he said.

“For young consumers it is natural because they were born in a world where they feel they have to have these products because they want to see change. Is it a fad? Only the future will tell whether the younger consumers act as they say they will in buying sustainable products.”

Other recent sustainability-related developments:

  • Products of Change (POC), working with several licensors, has developed two, three- and five-year plans for embedding in licensing contracts metrics for measuring sustainability, says POC CEO Helena Stopher. The first phase of work was completed and is available to POC members; a second phase is underway, says Stopher.
    Meanwhile POC, along with Lego, Tesco and others, is developing global packaging guidelines that will be available by year-end. The work is being done in advance of the Plastic Packaging Tax that takes effect in the UK on April 1. The tax is applied to plastic packaging manufactured in or imported into the UK with less than 30% recycled material.
    POC also is working with environmental educational non-profit Wastebusters to launch a recycling system for plastics that will collect toys, textiles and technology products from schools and swap them out for rewards points that can be redeemed for books from Harper Collins Publishing. Publishers DC Thomson, Story House Egmont, Immediate Media, Kennedy Publishing, Redan Publishing also are creating a recycling program for covermount toys that are packaged with magazines and newspapers in the UK.
  • The Nuremberg International Toy Fair (Feb. 2-6) will showcase sustainable products for the first time. There will be four separate categories in Hall 3A, including “Made by Nature” (Bamboo, cork and other materials); “Inspired by Nature” (renewable plastics including bio-based plastics); “Recycle & Create: New From Old” (toys made from raw recycled materials) and Discover Sustainability: Learning Through Play (toys that can be used to explain the environment and climate to children).
  • Adidas has launched a “Choose to Give Back” program with ThredUP’s resale platform which enables consumers to send used products from any brand back to the footwear company to be reused or resold via the Adidas Creator’s Club app, which launched Oct. 7. The program will expand in early 2022 more widely online and in stores. Under the program, consumers create a pre-paid shipping label using the app to return sports apparel and gear. If the product isn’t in good enough condition to be resold it will be sent to ThredUP’s network of textile recyclers. Meanwhile, Madewell and ThredUp have opened “A Circular Store” in Brooklyn, NY that will be open through Oct. 31. The store will sell second hand Madewell clothes priced at $10-$40. The store is as an extension of “Madewell Forever” online resale platform that was introduced in July.
  • Mattel surpassed its goal of having 95% recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper and wood fiber used in products and packaging. Mattel sourced 97% of recycled or FSC-certified materials used in products and packaging in 2020. As part of its effort to reuse materials and products, the toy company earlier this year launched Mattel PlayBack, a takeback program which enables consumers to return used Mattel products back to the company. The new program recovers and reuses the materials for new Mattel toys. Mattel is targeting having 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based materials in products and packaging by 2030.
  • Netflix launched the “Together for Our Planet” collection of 30 environmentally-themed TV shows, films and documentaries like “Our Planet” and “My Octopus Teacher.” The streaming service also is making “Our Planet” and “Explained” and feature-length documentary “Chasing Coral” free on YouTube in a new playlist. In creating the collection, Netflix cited a survey showing that 62% those responding said they were “extremely” or “very” interested in watching TV shows and films that dealt with climate issues. The survey, conducted by the National Research Group last summer, polled 13,000 adults in 16 countries.

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