3 lessons for how to tell a circularity story

by May 22, 2024

Shelton Stat of the Week

40% of Americans don’t understand what the word “circularity” even means. — Buzz on Buzzwords, 2023

Yet, 69% of Americans say companies should be responsible for the end-of-life of a product – and this is up from 59% in 2022. — Eco Pulse®, 2024 (Global)

You’re probably reading this right about the time I’m facilitating a session on communications at the GreenBiz Circularity conference. The funny thing about this session is that I reached out to a couple of folks I know in sustainability at two different house-of-brands companies to ask them to be on the panel. And they both said, “We’re not far enough along in implementing circularity to even be on a panel about how to do it, let alone how to talk about it.”


Luckily, both Levi’s and Kiehl’s are far enough along. They’ll join me (and Marilla Perkins with Conspirators) to talk about what they’re learning as they both implement AND communicate circular approaches. Here are a couple of examples of their comms efforts:


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A post shared by Kiehl’s Since 1851 (@kiehls)

One thing you’ll notice is that both brands are making circular behaviors cool. And while that’s a staple of branding and advertising, our ongoing market research and comms work in this area reveals that “cool” isn’t enough. Here’s what we’re learning that I think my Thursday panelists will reiterate as well:

  1. The circular approach needs to be better and more convenient. We saw this in our period product research back in 2018. The young women switching to reusable period products often cited “fewer leaks” as the top benefit. In other words, the new, reusable approach performs BETTER than the traditional single-use approach.
    This is generally true of any new behavior we adopt. Think about digital cameras. We moved from cameras that required film – which required going to a store for the pictures to be developed, then waiting several days and paying a fee for the actual pictures – to a camera that didn’t require any of that. And then we all moved from a digital camera to a phone that gave us all the benefits of a digital camera, but in one device. The all-in-one, always-in-my-pocket approach performs better and it’s MORE convenient.
    Kiehl’s is doing a refillable program on a subscription model. So you have one nice container, and the refills for it show up on your doorstep. Easy. It’s also less expensive, which is the next thing we’re all learning.
  2. The circular approach needs to be less expensive. In our work on period products we heard this a lot, and we did the math as well. The average woman in North America will use 12,000-16,000 disposable period products in her lifetime, at a cost of $1,900-4,000. Reusable period products save $750-3,600 in that same lifetime. If it performs better and costs less, why wouldn’t you do it?
    That’s the case Levi’s is making as well. If you buy a pair of jeans that are made to last, you save a lot of money by not buying all the jeans that wear out. Levi’s is also reselling previously owned jeans – since they’re so durable, there’s still plenty of value – which means you can buy them second-hand at a savings. And you can customize them with patches, rips, etc. to make them your own so no pair of jeans ever has to go to waste. And that gets us to the third learning.
  3. The circular approach needs to have a deeper emotional promise. Beyond convenience and pricing (and without those, you won’t capture a large portion of the market), you need something that satisfies a greater consumer need. With period products, there are real concerns about what chemicals are in single-use products and real concerns about all the waste. In fact, most consumers are concerned about waste, which is why nearly everyone all over the world thinks recycling is awesome. Being able to communicate to consumers that they’re not contributing to a mountain of waste they already feel guilty about, gives them a way to assuage the guilt. And circularity is, ultimately, about reducing (and hopefully eliminating) waste.

So, if you can promise a higher performing product, a more convenient experience, saving money AND less waste/less guilt, you’ve got a heck of a value proposition to go to market! Who says circularity is hard?

News of the Week
Global brands back Fashion ReModel initiative to drive circularity
Global brands back Fashion ReModel initiative to drive circularity
Just Style

Much like they did with plastics, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is working to forward the circularity of the clothing industry. This Just Style article discusses The Fashion ReModel Initiative and the first brands that are already on board.

Read more…

3 Questions: A roadmap toward circularity in the footwear industry

3 Questions: A roadmap toward circularity in the footwear industry
MIT News

Footwear is another difficult industry when it comes to circularity. This MIT News article details a new report from MIT called the “Footwear Manifesto.” In this report, they spoke with over 15 footwear companies to identify potential circular solutions.

Read more…

Cultures, Countries & Your Sustainability Story

Our annual Eco Pulse® study has gone global. We surveyed people in 12 countries to better understand how they conceptualize an eco-friendly person — and what that means for companies’ sustainability communications. Our latest free report reveals how local cultural values connect to local sustainability concerns and provides specific communications guidance for brands operating and/or selling around the globe.

Hint: Multi-national brands, you don’t want to miss your opportunity to connect on a deeper level with your audiences.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.