More often than not a walk down the hill from my house to the train station resembles a twisted version of the Crystal Maze. The game is a mixture of skill and physical (with an element of mental…but more in the exclamatory sense). The aim is to reach the train station whilst simultaneously avoiding dog poo, rubbish and unwanted items of furniture left outside people’s own homes – most with a piece of paper sellotaped to them reading ‘take me, I’m free’, which is blindly done in the belief that this represents ‘goodwill’ rather than, to give it it’s correct term, fly tipping! Thankfully 9 times out of 10 I win this particular game, for I reach the end without either tetanus, crap on my shoes or a broken collarbone. Which, admittedly, is an unlikely scenario for Richard O’Brien.  

I realise I’m painting quite a bleak image of my local area, but recent reports by the organisation Keep Britain Tidy (https://www.keepbritaintidy.org) suggests that Britain’s litter crisis is getting worse, with a 40 per cent rise in rubbish since 2014 and cigarette butts and food packaging covering over two thirds of public spaces. Unhealthy habits and a throwaway culture are fuelling the scourge.

Therefore, it’s very encouraging to see a Coca Cola recently announce a partnership with Keep Britain Tidy to encourage independent retailers to engage with their local community in helping to keep their local streets tidy as part of the Great British Spring Clean. For retailers looking for more information and how to get involved they can visit the website: https://cokecustomerhub.co.uk

We all know that this is an important issue and one which has not had the media coverage it once did in recent times. With many ‘environmental’ concerns focussing on plastics, energy wastage and recycling it’s often easy to overlook the basics – and making sure we don’t just throw our shit on the floor, is as basic as it can be and yet our streets are increasingly becoming strewed with cigarette butts, crisp packets and used scratch cards. It’s probably coincidence that most litter I see relate to items you can buy in a convenience store, but it does show that retailers have a role to play in not only helping to clean up our streets, but in educating and informing their customers about the issue, whilst at the same time ensuring that they are practising what they preach by recycling and correct disposing of their own waste.

If you consider all the factors at play when deciding upon which brand to buy, what retailer to shop at or what restaurant to go to for dinner, price, range, quality, availability, value for money, speed or service, customer service, atmosphere, etc. Yet, for around half of consumers, the brand’s impact on health, the environment and their ethical stance are all major factors in influencing their decision. Think of it like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, when the basic needs such as price, quality, customer service, etc. have been established and compared there are psychological and self-fulfilling needs, and this is where the ethics and ideals of the business in question come into play. However, it’s not as easy as just saying you care about the environment, you need to ‘live’ your ideals in order to resonate with consumers of today. In a lot of ways, they see brands like they see their friends, because they feel a close personal connection with them through the fact that they share so much with them and know so much about them in return. Everything a brand does from how it treats its staff to how it disposes of its waste and how it interacts with the local communities in which it operates – is all, somehow or another, in the public domain, and it’s by these actions that consumers measure a company, not by what it says in its adverts.

Furthermore, what’s good for the environment and good for the community is also good for business. We all like to spend more time with people we like, respect and who share the same values as us. It’s no different when it comes to the companies we choose to spend our time and money with. Actively engaging with the local community and pro-actively contributing to good caused and publicly driving home your ethical credentials are a great way to show your customers that you are a business that they should want to do business with. The key, however, is that it has to be authentic. Nurturing and maintaining authenticity are a sure-fire way to gain credibility and loyalty but, more importantly, a lack of authenticity or worse – trying to fake it – is a one-way ticket to the bottom of the pile.

If you’re not there yet but have a desire to get there, then don’t worry – start the journey now and make sure you share that journey with your customers. They want the real you, warts and all. This is key – customers know we live in a world that isn’t perfect so to see a retailer, manufacturer that operates within a perfect world immediately rings alarms bells and gives off an aura of inauthenticity. The way to truly connect today’s consumer is to embrace the challenges you face, embrace the mistakes you make and to celebrate your successes with them. Just as a friend would do.

Don’t be rubbish, keep Britain tidy and drive authentic change in your community to create a sustainable future for them and for you.

I’ll be speaking about the Sustainability in Local Retail at the upcoming event hosted by ThinkSmart and Scottish Local Retailer, which takes place in Glasgow at the end of March (see here for more information and to come along https://www.slrmag.co.uk/sustainability/)

Blake Gladman, Strategy & Insight Director