Our Let’s Get Sustainable series spotlights Klarna retailers who are setting an example for the industry through effective efforts to protect both people and the planet.
We sat down with Jen Wilson, Senior Director of Marketing at REEF, to learn more about the brand’s Better Beach Alliance initiative, the success of their ambassador program, and the importance of a strong social media presence.
Tell us about REEF’s environmental pledge. What drove the decision to make plastic pollution initiatives such a big part of your mission?
Since its conception, REEF has always had a strong point of view about the importance of our environment. Oceans and beaches are core to the REEF brand, and we’ve always felt it was crucial to protect our playground. In 2018 we partnered with Surfrider to develop the REEF X Surfrider Better Beach Alliance to create plastic pollution initiatives through beach clean-ups and environmental legislation. The program, which started in the US only, has since expanded globally to Europe and Australia. To date, we’ve engaged over 100,000 volunteers, in 2,000 beach clean-ups, to pick up nearly 1 million lbs of trash.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced in becoming more environmentally conscious, and how did you overcome it?
When it comes to product development, our ambition is limited by what’s available. We have extremely high standards for our products and not all eco materials meet those. Because of that, we’ve entered into research and development projects with sustainability partners to fill the gaps we think are the most impactful for our consumers, our products, and our global environment.
How have you identified what your customers care about regarding the environment?
We’ve spent a lot of time talking to our consumers to better understand what they care about. The overwhelming answer is that consumers care about what a brand is doing – that the brand’s vision and actions toward sustainability are clear and intentional. Ultimately, people are still buying footwear and apparel based on their style or functional preferences, but buying from a brand they believe is doing the right thing makes every purchase feel like a win. At REEF, we believe our external actions and internal actions are linked, which is why even with the research, we’re still just as passionate about making greener products and using greener manufacturing processes. When sustainability is core to who you are, it’s easy to go above and beyond.
How have consumers responded to your brand values?
Our fans and followers love our eco initiatives. Eco posts on organic social consistently have 46% more comments than our average post, which tells us our community is deeply engaged in that message and content. Equally as exciting is the response to our Better Beach Alliance program, which sees an increase of global volunteers year after year. Our fans are inspired by our content and we’re inspired by their active participation. It’s truly a magical relationship for a brand to have with its consumers.
How do you handle telling/including your environmental initiatives in your marketing?
When it comes to REEF’s environmental and social initiatives, we make a point of talking about it everywhere. Our most important channel is social. Several times a month we dedicate posts to eco and social initiatives. We share everything from updates and progress on our Better Beach Alliance goals, and/or new coral reef programs that we’re pioneering with our ambassador, professional surfer/marine scientist Cliff Kapono. We love to share educational tips on how our fans and followers can get involved with organizations or make meaningful changes in their daily lives, in addition to new products that feature eco materials.
We share many of the same updates via email and have a dedicated landing page on our website to highlight our main goals and partners. Further, we write many, many blogs detailing our individual projects. Because our ambassadors are equally as passionate about eco and social initiatives, they love getting involved. Our ambassadors participate and share many of the projects that we support. This gives us extra reach but, more importantly, introduces new people to our brand through a shared value, which we think makes for a much more impactful and loyal relationship between our brand and new consumers.
What impact have your environmental efforts had on your business?
Prioritizing our environment is a win for our consumers, our business, and our planet. It’s like 1 + 1 = 3. For us, one of the biggest business opportunities is opening the door to a younger consumer. It’s well documented in industry research, as well as our own research, that younger consumers are highly motivated by brands that align with their values, and the environment is high on their list. This gives us an authentic avenue to communicate with them.
How have you approached challenges in your supply chain related to sustainability?
This is definitely a challenge as we’re always trying to balance sustainability with our extremely high product standards. Looking to the future, we’re paying attention to our total carbon emissions and looking for solutions that help us offset those.
What’s the next big challenge for your brand around environmental initiatives?
For us, it’s always about how we can do better and do more. Not just on a global level but on a local one as well. This past year, we started a program with the Surfrider Foundation in San Diego called the Blue Water Task Force. As part of that, we donated part of our office space in our Carlsbad, CA headquarters to be turned into a community lab so the task force can monitor and research water quality information at beaches surrounding the San Diego area. We made this donation to further cement REEF’s commitment to environmental science. In addition to that, it’s about finding new and innovative ways to affect change both in our product and in the causes we support to make this world a better, greener place.
What are your plans when it comes to sustainability as a company or on a product level?
At REEF, we want to create styles that are not only trendy and comfortable but also expand our eco-friendly “footprint”. When we go into product development, we try to think about ways we can use various earth-friendly materials that will keep the integrity of our products. For example, our new Driftaway styles are beautifully designed and developed with sustainably sourced leather and a cushy midsole crafted from renewable sugarcane. These are the types of innovations helping us lead the way in sustainable footwear. In the future, we hope to unveil the unique eco-material we’ve been researching and developing for the past several years.
What advice would you give to retailers (big or small) interested in tackling environmental initiatives but unsure where to start?
Tackling environmental issues can seem overwhelming, but what we’ve learned at REEF is it really starts on the inside. Start with a clear and well-communicated point of view internally. Everyone in the company, from top to bottom, needs to feel invested in the vision. This is critical. If your internal team can’t communicate what you stand for, it will never appear genuine to your consumers, and if it doesn’t feel genuine you’ll have actually created space for distrust.
We’re fortunate that our founders years ago had the foresight to build in respect for the environment when it comes to REEF culture that has only blossomed through the years and spilled over into unique product ideas and incredible partnerships really defining and showing our dedication.