The following article was originally published in Loyalty360 here:

As many brands face new realities that include an array of various issues – from closing locations and re-opening, permanent closings, staff furloughs and new safety procedures — some have put the focus on sustainability on the back burner.

Others, however, have taken this opportunity to reinforce their commitment to CSR and sustainability, and have launched initiatives and campaigns focused on making a positive impact on customers’ lives, their communities, and the environment.

“With all that has been happening in the world, we are seeing more brands take a step back and re-establish their commitment to social and environmental issues that affect their customers,” says Mark Johnson, Loyalty360’s CEO and CMO. “Sustainability if ‘top-of-mind’ for a lot of consumers right now, and those brands who can deliver a successful message in these times are seeing a big reward.”

Ulta Beauty launched a program called Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty, an initiative that gives guests better choices and transparency. They certify brands under five key pillars — clean ingredients, cruelty-free, vegan, sustainable packaging, and positive impact — and will show what the brands are doing environmentally, such as what their products are made of or whether they champion meaningful causes. Ulta Beauty will also allow customers that advocate for a specific movement to choose the particular brands they want to buy from and those to avoid.

Bindu Gupta, a loyalty and marketing strategist at Comarch, says consumers have started caring more about what their favorite brands are doing in terms of causes that resonate with their own value system.

“This has a huge impact on their continued purchases as well as retention and loyalty in the long run,” Gupta says. “Brands which recognize the importance of standing up for the environment — as well as social causes that tell their own brand story — have a stronger chance to thrive and stay relevant.

From a loyalty strategy prospective, Gupta says, this involves understanding the consumer psychology, especially during turbulent times, and providing opportunities for consumers to support the causes by way of loyalty programs.

Burger King is working to help the environment with a new diet for cows that looks to lower the amount of methane the cow releases. The restaurant chain is collaborating with globally renowned scientists at the Autonomous University at the State of Mexico and at the University of California, with early tests suggesting that possibly adding 100 grams of lemongrass leaves to the cow’s daily veterinary prescribed diet during the last four months has helped them leave less methane. Studies have even shown that it reduces up to an average of 33 percent per day of a cow’s daily methane emissions during the last three or four months of their lives.

“Consumers are paying attention to corporate actions more than ever,” says Sue Frech, CEO of Vesta. “Our ongoing COVID-19 Brand Sentiment Navigator study has found enormous support for brands that are prioritizing their responsibility to their employees, consumers, communities, and the world.”

She says consumers felt the most positive about brands donating products and services to health care workers and giving back to their community: 74 percent support brands speaking up about issues, especially health and safety issues, while 62 percent support those companies who speak about the environment.

Rubbermaid launched a national recycling program that strengthens the brand’s sustainability efforts by partnering with TerraCycle to make food storage containers recyclable in the United States and Canada. Through Rubbermaid’s Food Storage Recycling Program, consumers can send in any brand of well-used glass and plastic food storage containers to be recycled for free. Participants need to sign up on TerraCycle’s website and mail their food storage containers using a prepaid shipping label. It will be cleaned and melted into hard plastic or glass that can then be remolded into new recycled products.

Loyalty360’s Johnson says research has shown that a commitment to corporate social responsibility can have significant impacts on customer loyalty and customer’s perception of that brand. According to CGS’ 2019 Retail and Sustainability Survey, results showed that more than two-thirds of respondents consider sustainability when making a purchase, and are willing to pay more sustainable products.

“Consumers will often show appreciation with their pocketbooks,” Johnson says. “It strengthens their loyalty to a brand when they see those retailers and brands showing a commitment to their own community, and on a larger scale, the world.”

Despite price still being a significant factor in buying decisions, consumers are putting considerable emphasis on sustainability as they are increasingly focused on shopping with brands whose mission they care about.

Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, says that for brands to show authenticity, they need to be true to their values. Consumers are loyal to brands that stand for something, he says, and when consumers share those same values, they become engaged brand advocates.

“Making emotional connections with consumers is the key to long-term loyalty, especially during the current pandemic,” he says. “Brands can achieve this through corporate social responsibility.

Caporaso says that brands that align their core messaging with a charitable cause are ahead of their competition when it comes to sustainable loyalty. During the pandemic, brands need to re-connect with consumers in a big way.

“Brand authenticity will help brands attract, acquire, and retain loyal customers during this uncertain time,” says Caporaso, who cited some brands who do this quite well:

  • Members of the Target Circle loyalty program can vote to help direct Target’s giving to approximately 800 nonprofit organizations in their local communities.
  • DSW and Soles4Souls: DSW customers have a chance to give back through the company’s loyalty program. When DSW VIP members donate a pair of new or lightly worn shoes at any location, they receive 50 reward points
  • Members of REI’s Co-op loyalty program pay $20 for a lifetime membership. Every year, the co-op invests in the work of nonprofit partners who help hundreds of organizations improve outdoor access for all.

As brands look for ways to differentiate themselves and retain customers, creating emotional loyalty is top of mind for many. By offering a shared cause and quality products or services, brands can more effectively build and strengthen relationships with their best customers.