Research indicates that Americans use 500 million disposable straws a day. For years, environmental groups have targeted single use plastics like pop rings, plastic bags and water bottles, but it wasn’t until 2015 when a video of a sea turtle impacted by a plastic straw went viral that the issue of plastic straws became a movement.

In fact, the plastic straw ban might have been the single biggest environmental movement of 2018. With several supporting organizations and public hashtags like #laststraw and #stopsucking consumers began to show their collective support to ban straws. Even corporate America and government took notice with businesses like Starbucks getting involved and communities like Seattle, Oakland and Miami Beach creating new laws and ordinances.

The Socially Conscious Consumer

It’s a new day and consumers expect more of the products they buy and the companies that produce them. In fact, consumers both tell us and show us how they feel about social issues. Edelman’s 2018 Brand Study found that 64% of consumers choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. And Shelton Group’s 2018 Brands & Stands: Social Purpose is the New Black report, 86% of consumers believe that companies should take a stand for social issues and 64% of those who said it’s ‘extremely important’ for a company to take a stand on a social issue said they were ‘very likely’ to purchase a product based on that commitment.

Look to social media, look to the State of the Union address, look to your local community and you will see groups of individuals coalescing around ideas. Single use plastic is not a new idea, but plastic straws got the biggest bang for the PR buck in the social movement. Why?

Keep It Simple

Simple ideas with tangible actions are easiest to understand. It’s difficult to make a case for change around the idea of #stopeatingthiskindorthatkindofmarinefishthatisntsustainablefishedbybadpeople. That makes for a very long hashtag and leaves consumers wondering what they can do to help the cause and make a difference other than eating no fish at all. What’s the result of a nebulous idea? No change and no movement in the collective change on public awareness and education. Straws on the other hand – easy concept, direct language, actionable ask. #StopSucking

In further social changing environmental news, several global companies including Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, PepsiCo and Mondelez have reported joining forces with TerraCycle on the new ‘Loop’ returnable packaging initiative. It’s an interesting and sustainable idea for the future which is also like turning back time harkening to the original days of the milkman. A quote from TerraCycle’s CEO Tom Szaky summed it up by saying, “Loop is about the future of consumption. And one of the tenets is that garbage shouldn’t exist. Removing plastics from the ocean is not enough. We need to get at the whole idea of disposability and single-use items.”

Think of plastic straws or single use plastic and returnable containers as the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine. The canary is our alert system for consumer behavior. Research shows that we are logically at a tipping point in the era of social responsibility.

The Issues that Matter

In the 2018 Cause and Social Influence’s Influencing Young America to Act, survey participants were asked to rank key issues as most important to them. The number one issue in the eyes of all young Americans surveyed was Civil Rights/Racial Discrimination (29%), followed by Gun Safety (22%), Immigration (21%) and Climate Change (21%). Other feedback from Sustainable Brands reminds us that issues like education, health and the environment have always been important, we are also witnessing the rise of topical issues like mental health, veteran affairs, gender equality and LGBTQ equality as fast emerging.

What we can learn from the banning of plastic straws is that the movement gave voice to bigger issues around single use plastic, marine conservation and climate change. What are the bigger issues that your brand can give to in a simple and actionable way?

Are you looking for ways to put your values into action and community with consumers in meaningful ways that make a difference? Drop us an email at and let’s talk about doing good.

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