Today's blog post is a special feature as part of our Trash Free Manifesto campaign this December. Over the last couple weeks we've been sharing the 5 Areas For Change we identified in this year's State of Our Trails Report. This week on our social media we talked about the concept of Shared Responsibility; we want brands of single-use products to acknowledge that responsibility for our pollution problems don't simply lie with the consumer - we are all part of the problem, and can all be part of the solution.
Some of you who've been with us for a while might remember we put out a call out last year for applications for an incredible research project with our partner Bangor University. The research looked at the role of communications in single-use drinks container pollution. Today's post is written by George Gilham who's currently completing the research project as part of his Masters. Read on to learn more about how the way brands talk about their responsibility to clean up plastic pollution, and what we can learn from it.
As part of my research into finding ways to help reduce single-use pollution, I have been exploring new approaches such as warning labels, incorporating “green” themes into packaging, and looking at how strategies such as community involvement along with testimony can elicit pro-environmental behaviours.
Tackling single-use pollution is a gargantuan challenge. It requires strategies which can not only help change consumer behaviour but also help change brand philosophy and responsibility regarding the disposal of their products. Much of my research into energy drinks has focused on Lucozade (and their parent company Suntory by extension) because Lucozade’s products are some of the most littered energy drinks found on our recreational trails. Recreational trails are tracks made through wilderness such as through forests and on hiking routes.
Because of the abundance of littered Lucozade products in trails and other natural spaces, concerned citizens have questioned Lucozade/Suntory over their approach to single-use pollution. So, what approaches and techniques are being employed by Lucozade/Suntory in response to such challenges?
In October 2020 Lucozade Energy claimed on Twitter that it takes environmental responsibility very seriously. One tweet read, “We encourage people to recycle via on-pack logos or messaging”. Lucozade Energy followed up with the comment, “We need the government’s deposit return scheme [DRS] to be fully operational and we need people’s behaviours to change too”. A user responded that there is more than one approach and big drink companies should take more responsibility. Following this comment, Lucozade ceased replying.
In April 2021, an individual posted on Lucozade Sport’s Facebook page “You should do more for the environment. My local fields are always covered in your bottles!” Lucozade’s response to this criticism was to thank the individual for their passion for recycling and anti-littering before commenting on how its organisation involves lots of “avid litter pickers” and “our employees regularly pick litter around all of our UK sites”.
Lucozade Sport then went on to list some of the campaigns it supports such as Love Your Forest, along with the introduction of DRS before claiming, "We’re increasingly introducing more and more messaging on our packaging and advertising to encourage people to recycle".
A more recent example from October 2023 shows Suntory’s response to an email sent by Trash Free Trails CEO Dom Ferris in which Dom asked about the opportunity of working together to help prevent the pollution of Lucozade bottles – following an engagement on Instagram.
In this more recent example, the continuation of the same response techniques can be shown. One of these techniques is referring to schemes and/or policies Suntory supports or uses which show support for environmental sustainability. Examples include proclaiming support for DRS, plans to move away from virgin plastic, including on-pack recycling labels, previously working with the environmental charity Hubbub and being a founding signatory member of The UK Plastics Pact. The UK Plastics Pact is led by environmental charity WRAP and it brings together businesses with UK governments and NGOs to tackle plastic waste. Pact members are expected to reduce packaging and help build a stronger recycling system in the UK. This technique is partially a defensive one and is used by Lucozade to signify that (in its opinion) it is doing its part in helping to reduce plastic pollution. It can moreover act as a rebuttal to questions regarding the amount of Lucozade pollution found if Suntory’s role in helping to reduce plastic pollution is in question.
The second major technique present, and one which can be found in prior Lucozade responses to criticism regarding the number of littered products found, is expressing sympathy while using emotion to try and build a connection. Some examples of language used include “we hate to see our empty bottles end up anywhere other than in a recycling bin”, “we want an end to littering”, “we agree with you that we have a responsibility to help manage where out packaging ends up” and “we hope litter will become a thing of the past”.
Maintaining a partially apologetic position through the use of terms such as “we agree with you” is crucial to maintaining a positive brand image. Trying to build a connection using emotive language with the one who questions the prevalence of Lucozade pollution also gives the impression that they are working to achieve the same goal.
There are, however, two aspects of Suntory’s response which are lacking. Firstly, while Suntory accepts there is a corporate responsibility to “promoting the responsible disposal of their drink containers'' and mentions some of the organisations it has worked with to help promote anti-littering, there is no indication that it is willing to work with Trash Free Trails to help reduce the amount of Lucozade litter found on trails. While Suntory is under no legal obligation to work with TFT, working together would be beneficial in helping to combat single-use pollution as TFT has valuable knowledge pertaining to trails.
The second aspect is the lack of a commitment to doing more in the present to try and tackle the amount of Lucozade pollution found. This is evident in Suntory’s constant reiteration of its support for DRS which, while effective in parts of Europe, isn’t fully operational in the UK at the point of writing. In June of this year the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity Lorna Slater announced that Scotland’s DRS will be pushed back to October 2025 at the earliest as to align with schemes in the rest of the UK. Consequently, wide scale DRS still has years until its implementation. Through the reiteration of support for DRS, Suntory is trying to push some responsibility for the pollution of its products onto the government by emphasising the inaction regarding DRS. This is in spite of the fact that Suntory possesses the capital to invest into more campaigns which feature anti-litter messaging and schemes centred on reducing plastic pollution. Supporting schemes which have been shown to reduce plastic pollution is of course positive, but it doesn't change the fact Lucozade is the most littered energy drink by brand on trails.
All of this is to say Suntory needs to do more in the present to tackle the pollution caused by its Lucozade products, as well as seriously contemplate working with environmental organisations which have specialist knowledge beneficial in helping to end single-use plastic pollution. Indeed, Suntory should consider the wisdom of an old Lucozade Energy slogan, namely that Lucozade “aids recovery”. Only this time, it should refer to the recovery of our natural spaces. Trails are not the only natural spaces facing degradation from plastic pollution, within 20 minutes of litter-picking from my own home I managed to collect a large bag of litter. Lucozade litter was unsurprisingly and unfortunately part of the collection.
Be sure to follow our Instagram for more updates on how we can change the language on shared responsibility of single-use pollution in 2024!