Go Green! How to Level Up Your Sustainable Marketing Practices with QR Codes

The future is green! Or at least it needs to be. Climate change is a looming, urgent threat to our existence, and as temperatures rise, governments and agencies around the world are scrambling for solutions.

The upshot of this pressure? It’s forcing companies to step up their corporate and climate responsibility and deliver solutions that show they are trying to make a difference. On an individual level, consumers are becoming more and more conscientious of their purchasing choices — such as opting for products with fewer air miles or less packaging, for example.

Even if your brand or business is making a conscious effort to reduce its impact on the environment, you’ll need to deliver this message to your customers or users and consider sustainability marketing as part of your strategy. 

Of course, sustainable marketing practices are much easier said than done. Simply using clever wording isn’t necessarily going to win over consumers or make your sustainability strategy seem like a genuine effort on the part of your company or brand.

But how can businesses show that they care about the environment and sustainability?

For one, QR Code marketing can provide creative solutions for companies who want to show that their products are sustainable or that they are committed to making changes. Whether to show where your products came from or simply to reduce the need for printing, excess paper, or packaging, QR Codes are more versatile than you might think.

Why choose QR Codes?

Long before Greta Thunberg brandished a cross-stitch QR Code in a Twitter post, these dotty little squares had already been making inroads where companies needed to boost their sustainability goals. 

However, there are many ways in which QR Codes can provide solutions for companies in industries as diverse as hospitality, and they can even be helpful for retail and fashion marketing campaigns

Over the past couple of years — particularly where the pandemic forced companies to rethink how customers physically interact with services or products — QR Codes have been swapping out things like physical menus for alternatives. For example, the QR Code menu became a ubiquitous feature in restaurants reopening, often using a PDF QR Code as a contactless solution where laminated or paper menus were once the norm.

Aside from providing businesses with one less touchpoint to worry about and reducing the need to sanitize and disinfect menus between customers, the QR Code menu can also make a noticeable difference in another area: it reduces waste.

But there are other advantages that go beyond waste reduction. QR Codes are an effective way to help customers make choices about the things they buy or to understand how you as a company or organization take responsibility for the products and services you provide.

To understand how QR Codes can help you make your business and marketing practices more sustainable, you’ll need to understand the different ways you can effectively incorporate sustainability marketing into your strategy and in what areas sustainability and QR Codes can work together to provide solutions.

Ready to put your company or brand on the path to a greener future? Let’s get started!

Climate activist Greta Thunberg holding up an environmentally friendly QR Code
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg holds up a QR Code. Source: Twitter

What is sustainability marketing?

Sustainability marketing is everything a company or organization does to promote its sustainable products and services and show its values as they relate to environmental issues. This includes being open about its economic and environmental practices to its consumers. 

More than just a buzzy-sounding phrase, sustainability marketing means showing your customers just exactly how environmental practices fit into the running of your business. 

For consumers, it’s becoming a more important consideration when making purchasing decisions. According to a 2021 report from Deloitte, almost 1 in 3 people have not followed through on a purchase because they had concerns about the ethics or sustainability of a product.

For companies, however, it can be shaky ground to navigate. And for every company that makes a genuine effort to inform consumers and reduce its own environmental impact, there’s one that will make dubious claims seemingly awash with “green” language. Phrases like “sustainability,” “clean,” and “conscious” might make a product seem like it’s environmentally a better choice, but in reality, it amounts to little more than greenwashing.

To make a real impact, you’ll need to convince your customers that the intentions behind your sustainability and sustainable marketing strategies are legitimate and that the language your business uses is not just a green-coated gimmick.

But how can your sustainability marketing strategy offer customers the transparency they need to make the right decisions about your business or products?

This is where QR Codes can help. By linking marketing and sustainability and giving consumers more opportunities to learn about your products and services and your business, you can make an environmentally-conscious statement that rings true.

How to market sustainability with QR Codes

Found everywhere from bus stops to restaurant tables, QR Codes are as user-friendly as they are ubiquitous. They provide the perfect opportunity for your company to link physical products with digital resources, whether that’s a downloadable PDF or a specific web page that can give more information.

Top 3 ways that Sustainability QR Codes open up your business

There are three meaningful ways QR Codes can help your business open up to customers and reduce your impact on the environment. Some companies are pushing boundaries with QR Codes and are using them to prove their sustainability marketing credentials.

#1 Reduce waste

Reduce, reuse, recycle: once a mantra of sustainable practices, this key phrase of environmentalism is as relevant as ever. Incorporating QR Codes into your business can help you tackle the first step: reducing waste. 

How can you reduce waste? You’ll want to strip away all the unnecessary packaging, flyers, and inserts from your products. Or, if you’re offering a service, give customers a digital option instead of taking printed materials with them.

As discussed, PDF QR Codes have helped the restaurant industry offer contactless solutions for customers while reducing waste. But there are other applications, too. 

Incorporating QR Codes into your packaging design gives consumers the option to download things like instruction manuals or a QR Code brochure. This helps you to reduce waste and is one less piece of paper for consumers to throw in the trash.

Waste paper next to a trashcan
Wastepaper beside a trash can. Source: Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

#2 Transparency about your practices

It’s not enough to say that sustainability is part and parcel of your product or service. You have to prove it, too. Utilizing QR Codes on product packaging can make a difference — even including a Dynamic URL QR Code that directs users to a webpage with more information is already a good start.

That said, some brands in the retail and fashion industries are leaps and bounds ahead, using QR Codes to give consumers a better idea of where their products actually come from. 

Another Tomorrow’s designs might hover at the luxury end of the fashion spectrum, but their use of QR Codes to give customers insights about how their materials are sourced is leading the way

In fact, in an industry where supply chains can be notoriously complicated, more and more brands are using QR Codes to open up their practices to consumers. LA-based label Reformation has introduced QR Codes onto the labels for their jeans, so consumers can trace where each cotton fiber came from

QR Code on a merino wool blanket prompting people to scan to learn more
A QR Code on a label offers consumers more information about where its materials come from. Source: QR Code Generator.

#3 Keep customers better informed about their choices

The more information you have to share about your product, the more informed a decision consumers are able to make. As the Deloitte survey showed, more and more consumers want to know where their products came from — and 49% of those surveyed said they had bought locally sourced products as opposed to alternatives.

Utilizing blockchain technology to give transparency to supply chains isn’t limited to the fashion industry, however. The food and beverage industry has its own reasons to open up to consumers about where their food comes from. 

For example, US brand Princes has incorporated both blockchain technology and QR Codes into their packaging to promote “sustainability storytelling.” With each QR Code scanned, customers can see that their canned tomatoes were ethically sourced and follow them each step of the process. 

Wondering where the milk in your coffee came from, or if your fruit was shipped from further afield than you’d like? QR Codes can help with that.

For consumers who want to keep their produce much closer to home, the Soil Association, a British charity dedicated to promoting sustainable and organic food production, has developed an Android app that lets consumers follow the journey of their produce. 

An array of different organic vegetables
An array of organic vegetables. Source: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

Sustainability and QR Codes: Moving sustainable marketing practices forward

Whether to prove the field-to-fork credentials of your produce or to give customers the transparency they need to make environmentally sound purchasing decisions, the ease and accessibility of QR Codes make them the perfect tool for marketers and companies who want to open up their practices.

Of course, these are huge-scale operations — implementing cutting-edge technology such as blockchain. However, this doesn’t mean that scale and reach of your resources should be a limiting factor when bringing sustainability marketing into your everyday business practices. 

In fact, every little thing you can do to help consumers understand where their products come from, or is a move towards reducing waste, is already a good start in sustainability marketing.

If combining blockchain technology with QR Codes is the most forward-thinking step towards sustainability goals, then simply using QR technology to replace unnecessary printed products is a strong first step.

In all cases, these dotty little black codes have more power and potential than you might think — and could prove to be the unlikely heroes of a more sustainable future.

Aoife McKeown

Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Aoife has been living and working in Berlin, Germany, since 2012. Her work focuses on creative writing, editing, and marketing copywriting, and she’s currently a Content Writer with Egoditor. Feel free to connect with Aoife on LinkedIn or reach out to her via her website.

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