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How to Market Sustainability: ‘Recycled’ and ‘Eco-Friendly’ Resonate, But ‘Vegan’ Can Be too Vague

When it comes to sustainability marketing, terms like “eco-friendly” and “recycled” resonate, but “vegan” can be too vague for consumers who want to know details about the product they are buying.

That’s according to a survey conducted by Footwear Distributers and Retailers of America (FDRA) and tech firm First Insight. The groups polled 1,000 shoe shoppers nationwide, posing questions around sustainability marketing language, claims — and what consumers prioritize around sustainable product, processes and company goals.

‘Eco-friendly’ is the most preferred description among consumers, with 46% of survey respondents recognizing this term. About 37% named ‘sustainable’ as the key term, while 27% gravitate to “responsibly sourced.”

Meanwhile, consumers view the term “recycled” as the most sustainable material that brands should highlight and market.

But other marketing buzzwords can actually fuel confusion, including “vegan.”

“Consumers want more information on why a shoe is actually sustainable. They dislike vague terms or marketing buzz words they see as just more noise,” said Andy Polk, SVP at FDRA.

Polk explained that 72 % of those surveyed said it’s not enough just to say “vegan.” “They wanted to know if the materials were plastic or plant-based. Vegan actually is not a very popular marketing term with shoppers generally, and I think people may want to rethink their marketing strategies if they want a broader consumer base buying their shoes. It ranked last when we asked consumers to rank what they thought were the most sustainable materials in shoes,” he noted.

Other key findings from the survey illuminated preferences around delivery options — the two-day DTC shipping model versus a more eco-friendly shipping method that might take three days or more, but would be better for the environment.

“80% of respondents said an incentive (a discount code for future purchase, $1 off the current purchase, or reward points) would get them to choose a more eco-friendly shipping method,” Polk explained. “This is really critical because most companies don’t even make an offer and right now with shipping costs increasing, this could provide companies a way to reduce costs and be more sustainable.”
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