Insights 09/09/2020 Megan Rae

Authentic Branding – Ethical supply and delivery


The implications of the product cycle from production through to consumption is becoming an ever-critical influence on consumer purchasing decisions. As such, brands that are unprepared will find themselves on a sticky wicket. Tobacco brands have been in the firing line for some time, from littering and pollution, to health issues that can result from consumption. Similarly, alcohol brands are significant contributors to packaging waste and are linked to both antisocial behaviour and health concerns. Snack foods and confectionery producers are new to take the spotlight, not only for their litter, but also their effects on consumer health. These and many more categories drove mass consumption, easy convenience and single use in the past. Yet, whilst these brands and many others are responding to legislative and consumer pressure to clean up their acts, they also need to address the significant behavioural issues. It’s all very well and good telling people to drink responsibly on an advertising poster, but will anyone take notice? We at Echo believe, it’s now time for them to change tack and encourage responsible consumption and recycling behaviour alongside efforts to clean up production and supply chain. Once this is recognised, the application of design thinking is at the core to finding the solution.

Historically, the supply chain of brands could be a convoluted web of commissions, particularly in large corporations. It was sometimes difficult to understand the complete end to end process. A complex process might well hide unethical practices such as sweatshops and river pollution; such poor ethical practices can tarnish a brand’s reputation. Let’s look into the detail behind some of the brands that have faced scrutiny here:

Boohoo. Recently, the multi-million-pound company found themselves wrapped in a modern slavery scandal overnight.

Coca Cola. In 2019, the brand was named the worst plastic polluter for a second year in a row (audit conducted by Break Free From Plastic). Occurrences such as these seem to be regular news items, with many manufacturers being accused of polluting natural water sources. Investigative journalism is quick to expose these ethical issues, in a world where ‘doing the right thing’ has become paramount.

Yet despite ongoing supply chain issues, there are brands that are doing a great job of remedying their stigmatised negative impact. Particularly considering alcoholic beverages, the following brands are straightening up:

“Glyph”. To create their spirit, compounds are sourced from plants and yeasts, rather than obtaining them through distilling and aging. This minimises the environmental impact whereby the majority of consumers find the sustainability initiative attractive, helping to influence their purchasing considerations.

“Toast Ale”. This brand takes their sustainable credentials seriously by using surplus bread product to replace virgin barley. This reduces the demand for land, water and energy, and avoiding harmful emissions. Consumers are presented with real-time environmental metrics to associate consumer spend with positive environmental outcome.

“Air co.” Vodka extracts the greenhouse gas Carbon Dioxide from the air and converts it into the vodka. Homeostasis for the environment!

“Absolut Vodka” is a company that incorporates a powerful human backstory into their line, which can help to create a connection with the consumer. They provide traceability of the production lifecycle, all the way back to the small village of Åhus in Sweden. You are assured of the care taken of their farmers and community, referring to them as ‘Farmers like Family’.

But what of the behavioural issues? Whilst it is true that some eco-warrior Millennials and Gen Z youngsters proactively embrace these brands, there is a significant portion of society who are equally indifferent and need that extra nudge. When it comes to recycling, there are those who are prone to a ‘Bystander effect’, whereby they assume that as everyone else is fulfilling a sustainable duty, it releases them from their responsibility to do the right thing. This is a slippery slope that can have serious detrimental consequences. Design has the ability to bring people together and create a true sense of awareness of the consequences of one’s actions. To achieve this, design needs to appeal to not only the consumers better nature, but also their human nature!

Eliminating the Bystander Effect using Echo’s Nudge Design

Using Echo’s “Nudge Design” can help remove the Bystander effect and nudge them into positive behaviours in situations where a natural sense of responsibility may normally pass them by. A famous example of Nudge Design was at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, where urinals were designed with a single fly printed in the centre. This ultimately improved bathroom cleanliness, as men found they subconsciously wanted to “aim” for the fly, resulting in less spillage on the bathroom floor – a simple nudge to a positive behavioural change!

An example of Echo’s Nudge Design in action can be seen in the work we did for Smarties. We developed ‘Learn Through Play’, by helping to create a range of educational toys for Smarties. We focused on physical toys which help to develop children’s cognitive skills through music, puzzles, roleplay and creativity; supported by a digital portal. This nudged consumers into identifying chocolate as part of a positive reward system which slowed down and reduced consumption to achieve permissibility.

Nudge Design helps to build community, new social norms, and positive peer pressure that encourages group commitment to planetary welfare. Nudge design covers all bases, reducing complexity and therefore resistance; it positively influences people when they are most likely to be receptive to behaviour change. Currently, we are working with alcohol companies, to collaboratively explore the future of their business with a shift in mindset away from being just a distiller or brewer to being in the business of sociability. This new framework allows us to design not just the drink itself but the way it is consumed.

We take great pride in helping to build better experiences, as well as encouraging moderate consumption and the adoption of a circular packaging system. Whilst Utopia is a long way off, we are happy to be doing our bit to create a greener and healthier world! Whatever the dilemma a brand may face, our tight-knit team of Designers and Strategists tackle a knotty problem with perseverance, but most importantly, passion.