The rise of the Sustainability Influencer
The influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth up to £10.9 billion by 2022, up from around £5.8 billion in 2019. This flourishing market is expanding with influencers filling many different niches influencing everything from our shopping and lifestyle choices to the way we consume social media.
But one type of influencer which is on the rise is the sustainability influencer. Driven by the pace at which global warming is progressing and the urgent need for action to try and improve the health of our planet.
In the UK, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) recently outlined steps to meet the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, while the US pledged to cut carbon emissions to 50-52% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. But to have any chance of meeting these targets, we need to completely change our lives from the cars we drive, to the food we eat to what products we buy.
A recent study by CVS Health, WWF International and other partners shows that 74% of people around the world are willing to adopt a more sustainable and healthy behaviour, but they don’t know where to start. And while people are willing to change, there is currently a gap between aspiration and actual behaviour.
The role of the sustainability influencer
The sustainability influencer plays the role of ‘environmental educator’ as well as influencer. From posting about slow fashion, living plastic-free, recycling, vegan cooking, eco-friendly products and so much more, they encourage, inspire and show us how to make important incremental changes to our lives. Also helping to close the gap between aspiration and behaviour.
Below are a handful of successful UK influencers:
- Slow fashion: @emsladeedmondson offers inspiration on how to make your wardrobe more ethical. From renting clothes, to re-inventing your existing outfits to searching for vintage clothes in charity shops.
- Fighting plastic pollution:@onplanetpatrol provides tips on cleaning up the environment and how to live plastic-free, such as using recyclable wrapping paper and non-synthetic clothing.
- Sustainable living: @blueollis posts about vegan recipes, sustainability hacks and how to make your own cleaning products and shampoo, as well as ways to up-cycle or mend old clothes.
- Green beauty: @veganbeautygirl offers ethical, affordable and sustainable alternatives to your favourite beauty products, including vegan and plastic-free lipsticks, fake tans, deodorants and foundations.
Does the traditional influencer playbook work?
Influencers drive consumer buying decisions far more effectively than any other marketing strategy because they understand consumer behaviour, since influencers are consumers. But in a world where sustainability influencers are playing an educational as well as inspirational role, where they’re an integral part of the climate change debate which goes much deeper than just promoting products, and where purpose must be prioritised over profit to retain the integrity of their position in the community, does the traditional influencer playbook still apply?
Perhaps not. A different approach is required where there’s more of an emphasis on guidance, tips and useful eco swaps rather than promoting new products and encouraging consumers to buy more.
Sustainability influencers take a different approach
Sustainability influencers influence through education, centring themselves on creating engaging and inspirational content. Everyone from environmentalists, other professionals, students etc. are creating infographics, images, videos and more to educate on what it means to live sustainably.
But while influencers work hard to create authentic, original content, they feel huge pressure to make sure their posts are always factually correct. Misinformation has been rife over the last few years, and this is a sector where factually correct information is critical to ensure you’re getting the right message out to consumers to influence change. It’s also critical for positioning yourself as a credible and respected member of the community.
Many influencers monetise content, from sponsored blogs to sponsored posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, for example. But to be successful it’s about achieving the right balance between profit and purpose. Too much focus on paid partnerships and you risk losing the integrity of your message and position in the community. A more effective approach would be to have a bigger emphasis on organic versus paid posts, while working with eco brands to encourage consumers to make smarter and more sustainable decisions, rather than just buying more.
The early adoption of emerging tech platforms is also important to amplify the message. Even though still in beta, Clubhouse is emerging as an increasingly popular platform for brands and influencers to have sustainability discussions. Everything from ‘How to quit fast fashion’, ‘Steps you can take to be more sustainable’ to conversations around the ‘Doughnut economy’ for example. Providing an opportunity for influencers to share their point of view, brands to have discussions with consumers and influencers, and so much more.
While sustainability influencers work hard to engage consumers across social channels by positioning themselves at the forefront of climate change conversations, there’s still much more work to be done to close the gap between aspiration and behaviour. To achieve this and help accelerate change in line with government goals, they need to continue their great work educating and inspiring consumers to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle, while working with eco brands to encourage more smart and sustainable buying decisions.