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Published - 2022/10/17


Expect the unexpected

Why are consumers still not seeing green when they think of forest products? And more importantly, what can you do to change it?

Expect the unexpected

Begin by listening. What do consumers think when they see your brand, or your customers’ brands if you’re a step further away in the chain? Do they see sustainability? Do they hear a story? Misconceptions and ignorance about the sustainability of the industry still abound. There are excellent exceptions, but in general, the right stories are still not getting told, and when they are, they are not always getting through.

Our research suggests that consumers are hungry for information. They like reassurance that they are making sustainable choices, but don’t always get it. Papermakers rely heavily on their suppliers, the pulp producers, for information when it comes to the provenance of their fibre, for example, but support is not always as readily available as it could be from the start of the chain. And when it is, the information pipeline is often blocked or simply ends well before reaching the consumer.

It's not deliberate. The trouble is defining what is useful. It’s no longer enough to stick a label to a product and hope the consumer will see it as a green light for a clear conscience. The closer to the consumer we travel down the value chain, the clearer the information needed – yet the more gets lost.

It’s important to create a sustainability story that travels down the value chain in a way that is understandable, relevant and communicable beyond your immediate audience.

Why? Because the consumer wants a simplified, easily accessible and relevant message which resists distortion and enables them to make a sustainable choice they feel good about, possibly in a matter of seconds. Complicated quality parameters are great for the Environmental Director, but not for the salespeople who are trying to convince retailers that one brand is worth buying above another. There are easy points to be scored here for both pulp and papermakers if they work together and listen more.

Beware of sitting back and thinking the consumer understands the inherent advantage of forest products. We were surprised by some of the results of our recent consumer survey. Some 35% said they didn’t think paper packaging was a renewable material, for example, while 29% believed wood to be a fossil-based material.

The current climate of uncertainty and intensifying cost pressures is the ideal context for a well-managed sustainability story that you might even see translated into a price premium. Might the right story mean the consumer picks your product next? Isn’t it worth finding out?

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