How to embed sustainability in the customer journey

Published on
September 21, 2023
Tim Slater

Why is sustainable marketing important in the customer journey?

Today, few marketers deny the importance of sustainability in their overall strategy. 9 in 10 customers consider sustainability when buying products, and demand for sustainable brands is likely to increase hand in hand with the spending power of more eco-conscious Gen Z customers. A number of businesses making progress on their social and environmental impact are beginning to successfully leverage this positive impact, to grow brand awareness, brand trust and ultimately boost the bottom line. Products marketed as ‘sustainable’ are in fact growing roughly 2x faster than products not marketed as sustainable.

Many, however, are struggling to grasp the opportunity. Exciting product and packaging innovations and sustainability certifications are too often winding up buried in impact report PDFs, or thrown together for a rushed Earth Day social media post.

Using sustainable marketing ad hoc in this way diminishes its credibility. To unlock the full brand benefits of their social and environmental initiatives, businesses need to embed sustainability in the customer journey in a consistent, trustworthy and customer-centric way. Below, you’ll find inspiration for how to land key sustainability messages at every touch point.

“To build trust, smart companies reconfirm their brand’s commitment to sustainability time and again by delivering on it consistently across multiple interactions and journeys.” 
Thomas Husson, VP, Principal Analyst, Forrester

How to amplify sustainability from discovery to checkout

Awareness stage

1. Sustainable social media marketing

At the awareness stage of the customer journey, social media channels offer businesses a number of opportunities to highlight their sustainability credentials. Businesses can embed their sustainability claims in product marketing and tell the story behind product innovations to increase awareness of their positive impact amongst eco-conscious audiences.

As well as celebrating the wins, social media is a great forum to acknowledge your shortcomings and share the process of implementing sustainable practices. Danish contemporary fashion brand GANNI has won favour amongst its customers for its honest tone about its own role as a fashion brand in the climate crisis.

Businesses can engage eco-conscious audiences on social media by marketing products with evidence-backed sustainability claims, as well as acknowledging their shortcomings.

Annual sustainability awareness events like Earth Day, World Environment Day, B Corp Month are a great way to demonstrate your support for specific causes and tap into a sustainably-minded audience. These events can be a great hook for new product launches with a sustainability focus. What’s more, they offer a number of cross-marketing opportunities with certifications, organisations and like-minded sustainable brands.

Sustainability-focused influencers similarly offer marketers a great chance to reach new eco-conscious audiences. From clean beauty TikTok accounts to zero-waste food bloggers, influencers can help you increase brand awareness amongst an eco-conscious audience. Read our guide on 20 sustainable influencers you need to know to discover great partners for your next campaign or product launch.

2. Sustainability PR

Marketers can also increase brand awareness by securing coverage in B2C media outlets for sustainability-related announcements including partnerships or product innovations. As well as the potential SEO benefits, securing earned media features  like this brings another level of credibility and puts your business front of mind for values-led customers. 

A great place to start is to enter sustainability awards events in your industry. In addition, more creative media campaigns can be a great way to grow brand awareness and perception. For inspiration, check out these 12 inspiring Black Friday campaigns designed to target eco-conscious shoppers.

3. Sustainable retailer edits

If your business sells through multi-brand retailers, it’s worth checking if they have an edit for more sustainable products. Getting included in these edits is a great way to get in front of more eco-conscious shoppers early in the customer journey, not least because retailers will sometimes allot a dedicated promotional spend, which means attracting more eyeballs on your products.

Screenshot of Cult Beauty's 'Cult Conscious' sustainable edit, with an overlaid stat indicating a 35% higher purchase rate
Last year, brands featured in Cult Beauty’s ‘Cult Conscious’ edit (powered by Provenance) saw 35% higher purchase rate than the average.

4. In-store sustainable marketing

Sustainability is not only the remit of the digital marketer. Physical retail holds great potential for businesses looking to embed sustainability in the customer experience. For example, businesses can improve awareness of their commitment to sustainability by providing in-store opportunities to extend product life, refill empties or recycle packaging.

Businesses can alternatively use in-store promotions to land key sustainability communications messages. These could take the form of aisle fin promotions or phygital displays that give the customer a peek behind the curtain of the supply chain, or including sustainability claims and certifications in on-pack messaging. 

Flat lay image showing a customer scanning a Napolina tomatoes can and exploring the brand's sustainability credentials on their mobile.
Napolina are boosting awareness of their sustainability initiatives with a digital experience accessible via on-pack QR codes

To give curious shoppers reassurance and a deeper understanding of their positive supply chain practices, Napolina added a QR code to their Chopped Tomatoes tins. Customers can scan to learn about how they are improving worker welfare through membership of the Ethical Trading Initiative, or how they are using technology to reduce water consumption.

Consideration stage

5. The Provenance Directory

To get in front of more eco-conscious customers at the consideration stage of the customer journey, add your brand to the Provenance Directory. The directory is a repository of hundreds of brands with proven sustainability claims, which demonstrates your credentials to purchase-ready customers, as well as retailer buyers, investors and journalists.

A screenshot of the Provenance Directory, showing a number of brand profile thumbnails under the heading 'Shop your values'
The Provenance Directory is helping hundreds of brands get in front of sustainability-minded customers at the consideration stage.

Join the Provenance Directory to tap into growing organic SEO search volume, improve brand awareness, and get in front of thousands of shoppers looking for brands and products that match their values.

Click here to see how the Directory works

6. Sustainable search filters

Another way to win over customers at the research and consideration stage of the customer journey is to leverage ecommerce search filters. This means giving customers on your DTC website the ability to search by specific social or environmental causes – for example, vegan or organic products, or those with widely recyclable packaging.

Besides configuring search functionality on your own website, it’s worth working closely with your multi-brand retailer partners to ensure your products are being effectively tagged and surfaced for all relevant sustainability searches. Cult Beauty customers, for example, can filter their search results by specific Proof Points in order to find products that match their value, from B Corp to Black-Led Business.

7. Sustainability pages

When considering sustainability and the customer experience, it’s worth paying attention to your website’s sustainability page. These pages might not receive the most traffic, but they can be a useful touchpoint for certain deep-diving customers that want to better understand your broader ethos, see your future targets and even understand your shortcomings. 

As with a Provenance Directory profile, your website’s sustainability page is a great opportunity to bring together your varied social and environmental credentials into a single view, in order to better engage customers at the consideration stage.

A screenshot of Arla Foods' sustainability page with an overlaid expandable sustainability claim
Dairy company Arla Foods uses their sustainability page to reassure consideration-stage customers with clickable Proof Point claims about their company-wide sustainability initiatives
Conversion stage

8. Sustainability on the PDP

A high-converting product detail page (PDP) is one of the most powerful tools at a marketers’ disposal. It’s also a key moment at which to leverage sustainability in the customer journey. When executed effectively, embedding sustainability on the product page can nudge eco-conscious customers from consideration to purchase, boosting purchase rates by up to 35%.

Provenance’s TrustBadge and Proof Points are embeddable sustainability badges which provide busy customers an at-a-glance summary of a brand and product’s impact. With Proof Points, you can communicate your sustainability progress with digestible claims that customers understand, without removing them from the customer journey.

As well as giving a high-level view of a product’s impact, Proof Points allow sceptical or curious customers to dig deeper. By clicking on the interactive badges, customers can view the evidence behind product and brand level claims, or simply learn more about a specific claim or certification.

A mobile screenshot of a Beauty Heroes/Prima product page with overlaid sustainability claims and a stat indicating +20% conversion rate
The US-based retailer Beauty Heroes has boosted conversion by 20% with clickable Proof Point claims on product detail pages

In an age of growing consumer scepticism and anti-greenwash regulation, Proof Points are an inherently trustworthy ecommerce solution for sustainable marketing. Each Proof Point comes from the Provenance Framework, an index of 125+ social and environmental impact claims and certifications – for example, Widely Recyclable Packaging, Natrue Organic and Renewable Energy. Provenance regularly updates the Framework in line with evolving ESG terminology and compliance standards, with help from our Integrity Council: an independent committee of sustainability experts.

Post-purchase stage

Data from beauty retailer Cult Beauty demonstrates that embedding sustainability in the customer experience generates a 5% higher customer sentiment. By focusing on bringing sustainability to the post-purchase journey too, businesses can further boost this and grow lifetime value. 

9. Values-led retargeting

Businesses can embed sustainability in the post-purchase stage of the customer journey by retargeting customers based on the social and environmental issues that they value most. By segmenting customers according to the sustainability data attached to purchases, marketers can unlock new ways to tailor communications and product recommendations. In doing so, they can leverage their sustainability credentials to improve brand perception and drive sales.

Consider the potential of reengaging an eco-conscious customer base with the values-led suggestions: ‘Thanks for purchasing our Organic Exfoliating Scrub – we thought you might be interested in seeing more favourites from our organic range.’ Or even, ‘watch this video, where our Head of Sustainability discusses how we’re expanding our organic range and why it’s important.’

10. Waste footprint reduction

Businesses can improve customer sentiment in the post-purchase stage of the customer journey by providing clear, convenient and sustainable disposal instructions, to help customers reduce their waste footprint.

This could mean an in-store bottle return system or refill scheme, or a digital solution. Provenance’s Recycle Router feature gives customers clear, localised guidance on packaging disposal options. By entering their local postcode, customers can identify whether they can recycle specific packaging via their kerbside collection, or the location of the nearest centre that will process a given packaging material.

Provenance's Recycle Router provides localised information to help customers dispose of product packaging more sustainably

11. Sustainability loyalty schemes

The relationship between sustainability and customer loyalty is often underestimated. 

Research from Rare: Group found that 63% of customers identify sustainability (e.g. recycled packaging, reduced carbon emissions) as an important aspect in staying loyal to a brand. When considering sustainability in the customer journey, there is therefore huge potential in proactively leveraging your environmental credentials after purchase. Businesses are now responding to this fact – Kiehl’s and Shiseido, for example, are among a growing number of businesses who offer discounts or complimentary products for customers who recycle product packaging in-store.

Few businesses, however, are realising the full potential of sustainability-led loyalty schemes. And that's in spite of the fact that 71% of British adults expect loyalty programs to promote sustainable causes and help people live in a way that is kinder to the environment. 

Looking ahead, marketers that want to embed sustainability throughout the customer journey must not overlook this final step. By rewarding sustainable choices with discounts, businesses can simultaneously boost brand perception, customer sentiment and ultimately, customer lifetime value.

Provenance’s data provides businesses with the foundation for a customer loyalty scheme based on sustainable purchases. Reward customers for buying product refills or buying low carbon products.

Embedded link to download a free checklist for marketers to embed sustainability in the customer journey

Drive more value with consistent sustainable marketing throughout the funnel

In today’s market, businesses have a huge opportunity to turn their sustainability progress into a competitive advantage. But achieving great results will require more than an annual impact report and sporadic social media messaging. 

To fully grasp the opportunity, marketers must embed sustainability with care into every touchpoint of the customer journey. Whether it's amplifying your brand's efforts on social media, harnessing sustainable search filters, or engaging customers post-purchase with values-led retargeting, effective marketers will ensure that their sustainable marketing efforts are delivered consistently and transparently throughout the customer journey. By leveraging sustainability in the customer journey methodically, businesses stand to unlock commercial value in both the short and longer term. 

To unlock the full potential of sustainability in your marketing strategy, from increased brand awareness to improved customer sentiment after purchase, download our Maximising Sustainability Through The Funnel checklist now.

Tim Slater

Tim Slater is the Marketing Lead at Provenance. He works closely with our Impact team to translate their expertise into actionable content that helps brands minimise their impact on people and planet and avoid greenwashing.

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

Find eco-conscious partners for your next social campaign

Read our curated list of sustainability-focused social media personalities in beauty and well-being, household and food and drink.