New Economic Realities   //   July 25, 2023

3 ways that brands are marketing their lower plastic footprint this summer

Eco-friendly brands are trying to reduce their plastic footprint — and these efforts are gaining ground on social media.

Retailers and brands across sectors are hearing a call for more options for plastic-free, non-single-use plastic or refillable products to cut down on waste. While sustainability hasn’t always been a go-to marketing tactic, brands are leaning into the angle more due to what they say is rising demand.

Many times, these brands see more customers come their way after posting on social media. Blueland, which does not use single-use plastics and makes eco-friendly cleaning products like laundry detergent tablets and toilet bowl cleaners, notices an uptick in interest after posting about products or educating consumers about recycling or global warming. “Time and time again, we’ve seen Instagram posts go viral… and we’ll see a bigger sales day that day,” co-founder Sarah Paiji Yoo told Modern Retail.

As the weather heats up this summer — and as people drink more water and pack up toiletries for vacations — here’s a look at how some eco-friendly brands are using social media to capture consumers’ attention.

Promoting ‘Plastic Free July’

This month, dozens of non-single-use plastic brands are participating in “Plastic Free July,” a global campaign overseen by a charity in Australia to encourage consumers to stay away from plastic for the month. Brands have signaled their participation by using hashtags, creating specific landing pages or rolling out unique challenges and promotions. Customers are also searching for the term more; over the past 12 months, Google Trends saw the biggest spike in searches for “Plastic Free July” the last week of June and first week of July.

Blueland has marked “Plastic Free July” for years, but 2023 is the first time it is creating an incentive-based challenge to try to spread the word even more. This month, anyone who trades out a plastic item for a plastic-free item for 30 days will receive a $100 gift card to use at Blueland. For every 10 people who complete the challenge, Blueland has vowed to donate $1,000 to Beyond Plastics. You do not need to be a Blueland customer to take part in the challenge.

“Plastic Free July is a big thing that we’re focused on,” Yoo said. “It has been, I believe, our best month this year.” Blueland sales in July have been 44% higher than they were in June, according to the company.

So far, 1,500 people have participated in Blueland’s “Plastic Free July” challenge, which Yoo ties into the company’s greater goals overall. “We have people giving up everything from plastic packaged snacks to plastic water bottles and plastic packaged beverages,” she said. “Honestly, it’s very in line with our mission from the beginning, which has been so much broader than our products. It’s really been, how do we inspire people to make more sustainable choices?”

Meanwhile, Bite, which sells plastic-free toothpaste tablets, is giving customers 20% off their first subscriptions with the code PFJ at check-out. It’s also published a blog with “Plastic Free July” tips from customers, including using reusable bags, reusing takeout containers and buying in bulk.

Superzero is a haircare brand that sells vegan and plastic-free shampoo and conditioner bars, both online and via Sephora. To mark “Plastic Free July,” Superzero is holding a #kickthebottle campaign that involves posting social media tips about everything from “plastic-free hairstyles” to ways to “banish plastic from your bathroom.” It’s also running a “bar versus bottle” campaign through its ambassadors, and the company is seeing “an increased number of comments from consumers recommending to go plastic-free” at this time, founder Conny Wittke told Modern Retail.

Superzero’s goal is to make plastic-free products more accessible, Wittke said. “It’s not realistic for anyone’s sustainability impact to be perfect 100% of the time, so we want to remove the guilt around it and show how beautiful a more sustainable lifestyle can be,” she said. “Today, there are easy plastic-free swaps that can be made within the home while providing better results, and the more people know about and make those choices, the better for the planet and all of our health.”

Holding giveaways

While many brands selling low- or non-plastic products have gained an avid following, other shoppers may be wary of the products and how well they work compared to their chemical counterparts. Giveaways are one way for brands to introduce their items to people who may have initially shied away from that brand.

Grove Collaborative sells some 200 brands and is working to become plastic-free by 2025. Many of its products already fit that description, and the company says all of its items are “100% plastic neutral, meaning if you receive any plastic in your order, we remove the exact same amount of plastic pollution from nature.” Grove says that its average order “removes the equivalent of 26 plastic water bottles from nature.”

Grove, which was valued at $1 billion in 2019, has already held two giveaways this summer. One, held in tandem with July 4, gave away a pack of “summer essentials” from the brand, as well as skincare samples from Cocokind and a set of Scented Auto Stix from Enviroscent. Earlier this week, Grove Collaborative held a “sustainable summer giveaway” in which people could win $200 in credit to use on Grove Collaborative items.

In addition to its “Plastic Free July” posting strategy above, Superzero is giving away a shampoo + conditioner bar and a plastic-free shopping tote to three winners on social media. To be considered for the giveaway, people have to follow Superzero’s Instagram account, like the post that mentions the giveaway and comment about which products they’d like to receive.

Highlighting summer-specific products

The summer can be a busy time for single-use plastics as families and friends head to outdoor picnics, barbecues, the beach and summer camps. Companies that stay away from single-use plastics — but sell the same products — are now trying to use seasonal marketing to differentiate themselves.

Take sunglasses, for example, a product many people will buy more of heading into the summer heat. Pala Eyewear makes its eyeglasses and sunglasses from bio-acetate, which is similar to regular acetate but uses bio-based plasticisers. While Pala Eyewear does use plastic for its cases, it says these plastics are 100% recycled. This summer, Pala is marketing its “shades of summer” on social media, telling users that “whether you’re lounging by the pool or exploring new destinations, don’t forget your Pala’s for the picture-perfect moments.”

Boxed Water, meanwhile, is marketing itself as an alternative to single-use plastic bottles — items many people are likely to buy this summer when heading out for a road trip or a hike. Boxed Water sells water in a carton that is 92% plant-based, and all of its cartons are 100% recyclable, refillable and BPA free. On Instagram, Boxed Water posts summer-themed photos with captions including “No summer adventure is too big when you’re fully stocked” and “Staying refreshed with family this Fourth of July.”

Lastly, brands making creams and sprays — long made from non-renewable materials — are also on a marketing blitz. Not all of Badger Balm’s products are plastic free, but the brand does offer plastic-free sunscreen in aluminum tins, as well as vegan bug spray in aluminum bottles. Meanwhile, Grove Collaborative has posted TikToks highlighting travel essentials like “wrinkle release spray in case your hotel doesn’t have an iron” and “hand soap that dissolves with water for outdoor excursions or beach days.”