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Go Green, Get Green: Sustainability in Loyalty Programs

Sustainability is a big trend, and it is here to stay. Eco-friendliness has become the new normal for young consumers, who are increasingly choosing well-made ethical products over cheap and mass-produced ones. There’s no wonder then that McKinsey predicts that sustainability is ‘both the single biggest challenge and the single biggest opportunity’ for the fashion industry in 2020. To keep up with this rising demand, brands need to align themselves with green practices. This article will discuss an easy way to begin: through implementing sustainability in loyalty programs.

What Is Sustainability and Why Is It Important?

Sustainability is a way of living and producing that simultaneously meets human needs while maintaining a healthy environment. As the saying goes, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Sustainability is important in all aspects of life, but recent analysis shows that it is particularly necessary in the fashion industry. The apparel and footwear industry produces over 8.1% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 3,900 million metric tons of CO2. If you’re still not convinced how much that is, that’s equivalent to the weight of about 600 Great Pyramids of Giza!

Clearly, companies have a duty to reduce their footprint, and consumers are demanding it. McKinsey notes that internet searches for ‘sustainable fashion’ tripled between 2016 and 2019. No matter what industry you are in, incorporating sustainability is key in attracting and keeping customers. A loyalty program that incorporates green features will give you good karma, as you help the Earth, your customers will keep shopping with you.

Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has fully aligned itself with sustainability: it promotes eco-conscious movements and upcycles used clothes into new, desirable ones.

What Are the Benefits of Sustainability in Loyalty Programs?

So how exactly does going green give you green? There are more benefits to going green than you think. Beyond receiving kudos from your customers, you’ll benefit from the following:

    1. More in-store visits: When customers donate a garment for a reward, they need to come into the store. This invites them to shop around and use their reward right then.
    2. Larger community: When you partner with a charity or environmental organization, you gain accreditation with their following and increase yours.
    3. Reduced production: When you encourage customers to bring back used products, be it empty bottles or plastic containers, for reuse, you are able to close your loop of production and ultimately cut costs.
    4. More social engagement: Many environmental movements are happening online, so when you participate in a hashtag campaign, you insert yourself into the movement and increase traffic to your brand.

Rewarding customers for non-transactional activities like this also keeps up their engagement level, meaning that they’d consider you in the first place the next time they plan a purchase.

5 Inspiring Companies Incorporating Sustainability in Their Loyalty Programs

1. The North Face

To stop clothing from going into landfills, the popular outdoor product company The North Face created the Clothes the Loop program. This program invites customers to drop off unwanted clothing and footwear (of any condition and brand) to one of their retail or outlet stores to benefit their partner Soles4Souls. In return, customers receive $10 off their next purchase of $100 or more. It has proved to be very successful—customers in the US have donated more than 95,000 pounds of clothing and footwear!

The North Face educates their customers on the impact of textile waste, encouraging shoppers to recycle and fueling their rewards.

2. Madewell

Did you know your old jeans could be used to make housing insulation? Popular apparel company Madewell does just that through their partnership with Cotton’s Blue Jeans Go Green denim recycling program. Customers simply need to bring in old jeans (from any brand) to donate and be turned into housing insulation. Madewell then returns the favor with $20 off a new pair.

Madewell inspires customers through real numbers and tangible change—creating ‘infinite good vibes from giving back’.

3. REI

Outdoor retailer REI’s membership program The Co-Op measures the success of their program through stewardship. Through the profits of their program, REI invests millions of dollars in hundreds of nonprofits. In 2019, the retailer grossed $3.12 billion in co-op sales and invested almost 70% of their profits in giving back to the environment. They give money back to their customers as well, issuing $210.8 million in member dividends in 2019.

REI mobilizes their members to act in their #OptOutside on Black Friday campaign, calling on customers to clean-up and pledge to reduce their impact.

4. Kiehl’s

The popular skincare brand Kiehl’s rewards customers for recycling their empty containers. For each container they bring, customers receive one stamp, and once they reach 10 stamps, they receive one travel-sized product.

Kiehl’s stamp program not only encourages recycling, but also keeps customers engaged and coming back to the store.

5. Beer Hawk

Circularity is a key facet of sustainability. Beer Hawk, the UK’s leading online retailer of specialty beers and ales, promotes circularity by offering customers beer tokens for returning their empty PerfectDraft kegs. Customers can convert these tokens into discounts, and Beer Hawk can repurpose these kegs — a win-win situation!

By offering customers the ability to return their kegs, Beer Hawk takes the extra waste off of their hands and offers rewards in return.

Don’t Keep Mother Nature Waiting

There are so many ways to implement sustainability in loyalty programs. You can use these methods we mentioned or create your own — just remember to reduce, reuse, recycle. We’re here to help you design the best green initiatives for your program. Customers will love your creativity and awareness, and you’ll see results when they become loyal brand advocates.

And for more info about planning and launching a successful customer loyalty program, check out our guide, or you can have inspiration from the above mentioned Beer Hawk case study.

Timi Garai
Timi Garai
Timi is a Senior Loyalty Strategist at Antavo. She has helped numerous eCommerce, physical retailers and B2C brands strengthen customer loyalty, and significantly increase annual revenue. Timi is also the head organizer of one of the largest anime conventions in Europe.