Are traditional loyalty schemes bad for the planet?

Loyalty schemes could be considered to be bad for the planet. Loyalty programs encourage more waste and a greater strain on our planet by incentivising fast and new purchases, while millennials are increasingly buying second-hand and waste-free products. Where do the two meet?

Millennials don’t like plastic straws, plastic bags or disposable coffee cups. We hate them so much that KeepCup, founded in Melbourne, has grown to worldwide acclaim in just ten years by selling its non-disposable coffee cups to coffee-obsessed millennials. All we need now is a carbon-free solution to avocado on toast.

Environmentalism is no longer a fringe argument reserved for your barefooted, long-haired hippie flatmate.  Positive environmental activism is on the rise. Even the kids are doing it, inducing parental hysteria with school strikes, and protest groups have ditched the method of a scheduled walk from an inner-city park to the houses of parliament. Groups like Extinction Rebellion hold flash protests, blocking up streets, standing on trains and holding effective unscheduled demonstrations..

So how does brand loyalty fit into all this? We’ve all got a few favourites, maybe you love Uniqlo, can’t get enough of Zara or own multiple pairs of Adidas sneakers. But if the op-shop is selling a second hand top that you want from a different brand, I’m not going to let brand loyalty get in the way of a good deal.. It’s cheaper and, best of all, it’s better for the planet.

Millennial spending habits are under constant observation. We are the generation reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century and we have a lot of influence on the consumer market. Researchers have identified a number of key trends in our spending, like a tendency to shop online, to look around for the best deals and to research voucher codes before buying. Brand loyalty can take a backseat while we look for the best deal. Chances are, if something’s cheaper somewhere else, we’ll go there.

Meanwhile businesses desperately encourage us to buy new things with loyalty schemes and reward cards, accruing points when we buy and losing points when we don’t. Items degrade or go out of fashion and we buy new ones, rinse and repeat. But what if we don’t want to buy new things, throw them away and contribute to the growing strain on our planet?

In fashion, some are refusing to buy new items at all. Melbourne-based designer Isabel Fugslang decided to avoid buying any new clothes in 2019. Working in the fashion industry, she understands the waste that comes from fast fashion and the need for transparency in supply chains after the 2013 Bangladesh garment factory collapse. And Isabel has the advantage that she’s a designer and can express her creativity through the project.

Not all of us can weave our own fabrics and put together a full outfit, so the next best thing is to buy second hand or resale. Interestingly, the fashion resale market has reportedly grown 21 times faster than the retail market in the last three years, driven by better prices and increased environmental and ethical awareness. So does it still make sense for us to shop at the same place every time we need new stuff, or is there more to gain from op-shops, resale, second-hand clothes and revamped electronics?

Traditional loyalty schemes can restrict how we choose to shop. They encourage us to spend more on stuff we don’t need, creating more waste, rather than allowing savvy spending that finds the best price, the best product, and the best option for the environment. Consumers are evolving with more awareness. The world of loyalty needs to be shaken up to meet this behaviour and make the switch from incentivising wasteful spending habits to rewarding environmentally friendly purchases.

Guest author

Chad is a freelance journalist writing on entertainment, music, politics and science for publications such as Broadsheet, The Independent and SW Londoner. For any inquiries, contact him via Twitter.