Green Loyalty Programs: A Win-Win for Businesses and the Environment

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Sustainability is not just a fashionable word that is thrown around a lot these days but rather a key to a brighter, greener future. In recent decades, we've faced hotter summers, melting ice caps, worsening wildfires, declining biodiversity, more air pollution, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, extreme weather, agricultural challenges, and increased health risks. This has led to increased environmental awareness and a shift in consumer behavior towards greater environmental responsibility. Sustainability is becoming an important aspect of business operations. This trend is evident in the growing number of eco-friendly products in the market. Consequently, adapting your loyalty program to embrace eco-friendly practices is a wise strategy in today’s environmentally conscious market. 

In this article, we will explore the concept of a green loyalty program, discuss why it is essential for your business, and provide examples of such programs.

Here's what we are going to cover:

  • Customer loyalty and sustainability
  • What is a green loyalty program?
  • Benefits of green loyalty programs 
  • Green loyalty programs, ESG, and SDGs
  • What is greenwashing?
  • Examples of green loyalty programs 

Customer Loyalty and Sustainability

Sustainability and loyalty are closely connected, as the former aligns closely with customer values. In fact, 68% of customers feel loyal to brands that share the same values, indicating that integrating sustainability into your business model can be a key strategy in attracting and retaining a loyal customer base. This is particularly relevant when considering that loyalty programs are not just a tool for customer retention and engagement, but also a reflection of a brand's commitment to shared values and sustainable practices

As part of the fight against climate change, an increasing number of customers are considering the environmental impact as a key factor in their purchasing decisions. 

Climate change is not a hoax. Businesses are increasingly expected to reduce their carbon footprint, a responsibility driven by evolving customer expectations. Customer expectations significantly affect customer loyalty. Sustainability and ethical considerations are major factors influencing customer behavior. Consequently, people are now more inclined to tailor their buying habits in a way that supports their dedication to preserving the environment. 

Shoppers expect a lot from brands they are loyal to. They want great experiences and excellent customer service. They also seek a real connection with the brand. It's important to them that the brand cares about their values. Shared values create a connection that extends beyond a positive association with a brand. These common values create a strong emotional connection, forming a personal and proactive relationship. It's crucial to create a green loyalty program that encourages your customers to make eco-friendly choices. As loyalty programs embrace sustainability, the emphasis moves from simply buying more to making more thoughtful purchases. By matching the program with what the customers care about, brands can maintain long-term customer loyalty. Millennials and Gen Z customers are more socially conscious customers. Aligning your values with them can provide a competitive edge, help in attracting and retaining more customers, and foster a loyal customer base. 

What is a Green Loyalty Program?

Generally speaking, a “green loyalty program” is a rewards or loyalty scheme that a company runs to promote eco-friendly behaviors and practices. 

These programs reward customers for making sustainable purchases, such as buying eco-friendly products, recycling, or reducing energy consumption. The rewards might include points-based discounts, percentage-based discounts, freebies, cashback, and free delivery, all aimed at promoting a more sustainable lifestyle among consumers. The overall goal of such programs is to integrate environmental responsibility into everyday customer activities, aligning customer loyalty with eco-consciousness. Each purchase helps move towards a greener world, changing buying habits into examples of conscious living. These loyalty programs help people reduce their carbon footprint, making them feel proud that they're helping the planet.

Green loyalty programs and sustainability merge as seamlessly as a meticulously crafted piece of recycled art. Similar to a thriving garden, this ideal pairing flourishes through mutual growth. In today's sustainability-focused age, green loyalty programs hold significant potential. They benefit the environment, the business community, and, most importantly, the customer, too. Additionally, these programs serve as a great marketing tool.

So, what do green loyalty programs offer in terms of benefits? 

Benefits of Green Loyalty Programs

Green loyalty programs, which incentivize eco-friendly actions, offer clear advantages for the environment. However, these programs also provide significant benefits to the businesses that implement them. 

01. Increased customer engagement and retention 

Loyalty programs attract repeat customers by giving rewards or discounts, making them feel valued and more likely to buy again. According to statistics, 83% of consumers report that a brand's loyalty program influences their decision to make repeat purchases. Brands focused on sustainability get 4% more repeat customers each year than less sustainable brands.

Engaging deeply in sustainability efforts could potentially enhance brand loyalty more effectively than a standalone loyalty program. Green loyalty programs can boost customer loyalty and satisfaction by resonating with their values and incentivizing environmentally friendly actions. 

02. Positive environmental impact and increased sustainability awareness 

Beyond business advantages, green loyalty programs not only increase awareness of environmental issues but also actively enable people to make more sustainable choices in their daily lives. By offering rewards and incentives, these programs promote eco-friendly habits, reduce carbon footprints, contributing to a healthier planet. For example, The European climate law legally mandates the achievement of the EU's climate target, which is to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 55% by the year 2030. Loyalty programs focused on environmental sustainability can assist people and organizations in aligning with these goals, thereby aiding in the creation of a sustainable future.

03. Strong brand image

Companies that implement green loyalty programs are perceived as environmentally conscious which attracts partners and customers that value sustainable practices. 

Emphasizing your eco-friendly efforts in your loyalty program can enhance your reputation. It shows that you're not only focused on sales but also committed to creating a sustainable future for upcoming generations. This approach not only appeals to environmentally conscious consumers but also sets a positive example for other companies. 

04. Cost savings 

Green loyalty programs help businesses save money by promoting environmentally friendly practices. These programs often encourage customers to reuse, recycle, or choose sustainable options. Implementing energy-efficient systems or practices that reduce waste can decrease the everyday operational costs of a business. Grants, tax credits, and rebates all help to cut the cost of putting green initiatives into action. Government policies are increasingly favoring sustainable practices. By making early adaptations, businesses can lower their future costs associated with compliance to new environmental regulations. Government support for green initiatives helps businesses match up with increasing concerns about the environment. This also offers financial benefits that contribute to cost savings. 

Green Loyalty Programs, ESG, and SDGs 

ESG is not just a PR trick or a buzzword. ESG, which stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance, is a set of criteria used to evaluate a company's ethical impact and sustainability practices. This approach evaluates a company’s performance as a steward of the environment, its relationships with staff, customers, and communities, as well as its ethical leadership and transparent governance. ESG has emerged as a crucial metric for customers and investors who want to support businesses that are not just profitable but also socially and ecologically responsible. Furthermore, companies that don’t prioritize improving their sustainability face a greater chance of their value declining than those that do. 

Incorporating ESGs into your business is a unique process for each company, heavily influenced by its size. It's crucial to recognize that every business, depending on its scale, has its own set of characteristics and needs. 

Brands of various sizes saw different growth rates by promoting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. Smaller brands making ESG-related claims experienced disproportionate growth

A series of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were approved by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 to ensure prosperity, fight poverty and protect the environment. 

In 2015, the United Nations set 17 Sustainable Development Goals aiming to fight poverty, ensure prosperity and protect the environment. The purpose of this endeavor was to contribute to the 2030 sustainable development agenda. Sadly, the UN’s 2023 report showed that the progress has been slow for half of the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria are interconnected in their aim to promote sustainable and responsible practices. Business and investors who use ESG criteria in their decision-making often align their goals and strategies with the SDGs. Essentially, ESG offers a practical framework that investors and companies may use to contribute to the broader objectives of the SDGs. 

Green loyalty programs are consistent with, or support, both the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria and the objectives outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). You can align your green loyalty program with the environmental aspects of ESG by rewarding customers for actions that reduce their carbon footprint, such as using renewable energy, recycling, or purchasing eco-friendly products. This directly supports SDGs like Climate Action (Goal 13), Responsible Consumption and Production (Goal 12), and Life Below Water (Goal 14). Make sure that your program operates with transparency, ethical standards, and good governance, reflecting the governance pillar of ESG. Collaborate with other organizations and NGOs that are working towards achieving the SDGs. This approach supports Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) and can amplify the impact of your green loyalty program. 

In addition to encouraging customer loyalty, green loyalty programs that are in line with ESG standards and the SDGs also help create a more sustainable world. This alignment can be beneficial for small businesses, too. It can enhance the brand reputation, appeal to socially conscious customers, and contribute to broader sustainability goals. 

Brands must use clear, consistent messages to show their dedication to sustainability. This helps customers understand that the brand's efforts are genuine and not just "greenwashing."

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to the practice where a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly, rather than implementing practices that minimize their impact on the environment. 

It’s when companies use misleading green PR and marketing to make customers think their products and goals are good for the environment, even when they’re not. 

Some companies use greenwashing to boost their loyalty programs. When it comes to loyalty programs, businesses might promote rewards or special offers as “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” to attract customers who care about the environment. 

However, these claims are often superficial or exaggerated, serving more as a marketing strategy to increase customer loyalty and brand image rather than reflecting a genuine commitment to environmental sustainability. If your customers discover that your environmental claims are insincere, it could significantly damage your business reputation and lead to a lasting erosion of trust. 

Examples of Green Loyalty Programs 

Many businesses are implementing green loyalty programs to promote eco-friendly customer behavior. Here are some compelling examples that highlight how companies are rewarding customers for making sustainable choices. 

01. Patagonia

Source:

Based in Ventura, California, Patagonia is a well-known American clothing company that was founded in 1973 by renowned environmentalist and entrepreneur Yvon Chouinard. It caters to outdoor sports including snowboarding, climbing, surfing, fly fishing, trail running, surfing, kitesurfing, and mountain biking. It specializes in premium outdoor clothing and equipment. Being one of the most respected brands in the outdoor apparel industry worldwide, Patagonia is well-known for its dedication to sustainability and the environment. Originally a small firm specializing in climbers' tools, Patagonia has now become a leading sustainable brand worldwide. On September 24, 2019, Patagonia, an American outdoor clothing brand, received the UN Champion of the Earth award.

Patagonia's loyalty program is centered around sustainability. The outdoor apparel company provides a customer loyalty program known as "Worn Wear." Customers are encouraged to purchase used Patagonia products, mend what they already own, and recycle old clothes. Patagonia rewards customers with credits for future purchases when they trade in their old gear. People can bring their used Patagonia gear in good condition and receive up to $100 in Worn Wear Merchandise Credit for each item. Since 1985, Patagonia has committed to donating 1% of its sales towards the conservation and rehabilitation of the natural environment.

02. Madewell

Source:

Madewell is a clothing brand that specializes in providing men and women with basic wardrobe pieces. At the heart of their collection lies a pronounced dedication to crafting durable and well-constructed denim jeans. Madewell also provides other apparel items such as shorts, dresses, pajamas, and stylish footwear. The brand is known for its creativity, inclusivity, and personal expression, making it a popular choice for a wide community. It's not just about fashionable clothing; they also prioritize being socially responsible and sustainable in their business practices. 

Madewell has launched a great green loyalty program. 

  • At Madewell stores, members can save $20 on a new pair of jeans by trading in any old pair, regardless of the brand. 
  • Madewell is working with Cotton's Blue Jeans Go Green™ program to recycle old jeans into insulation material for houses.

Madewell's popularity among customers stems from its alignment of customer loyalty with eco-consciousness. The brand is committed to communicating its values to its customers, encouraging them to also contribute and protect the environment. Madewell is yet another outstanding illustration of a fashion retailer accepting responsibility for their environmental effect and empowering customers to do the same through their loyalty program. 

03. Costa Coffee

Source:

Costa Coffee is one of the world's biggest coffee shop chains and the largest in Britain. In 1971, Italian brothers Sergio and Bruno Costa founded Costa Coffee in London, driven by their passion for offering high-quality coffee to English consumers. Today, this esteemed brand has expanded its presence to 45 countries, carefully selecting coffee beans from across the world.

Costa Coffee was the first company in the coffee industry to introduce a points-based loyalty program. The company launched its loyalty scheme in March 2010. For every £1 spent, The Costa Coffee Club gave customers 5 points, with every point being worth 1p. To make things even better, bonus rewards were provided all year long to encourage important customer behaviors. 

By the time, Costa introduced their new loyalty scheme, the Costa Coffee Club had already attracted 6 million members. What’s more, 34% of Costa's sales in the UK were generated by these loyal customers.

To enhance the effectiveness of their loyalty program and demonstrate their appreciation for customers, they decided to engage in sustainable initiatives, aiming to touch their customers' hearts and show their commitment to environmental responsibility. They took part in such initiatives as recycling, and sustainable cup design. They even used coffee grounds as fuel for their stoves. 

The company has started a new loyalty program to encourage customers to be more environmentally friendly. For example, if you use 5 reusable cups, you get a free coffee. 

This may seem like a minor adjustment, but it has been successful. The company experienced a surge in sales and increased customer engagement with its loyalty program. According to their research, their sustainability initiatives have resonated deeply with customers. Consequently, they are using reusable cups more frequently and increasing their spending. What’s not to love? 

With the increasing competition, choosing to be an environmentally friendly company is not only a responsible decision but also a strategic one. Costa Coffee is a perfect example. 

04. Girlfriend Collective

Source:

Based in Seattle, Washington, Girlfriend Collective is another excellent example of an eco-friendly company. Girlfriend Collective is an activewear brand for women specializing in athletic and loungewear, known for using recycled materials such as polyester, fishing nets, and old water bottles in their products. The brand was established by a married couple, Ellie and Quang Dinh. 

The company prioritizes eco-friendly practices, ensuring their packaging is recyclable and their products are made from waste materials. Girlfriend Collective also emphasizes ethical labor practices and transparency in its manufacturing processes, contributing to environmental stewardship and social accountability. As you can see, sustainability is a fundamental value deeply embedded in the ethos of Girlfriend Collective, as demonstrated by their practices and commitments. How can you not love this company? 

Girlfriend Collective is known for its transparency regarding sustainable practices and open communication with customers. In contrast, some brands pretend to be sustainable, engaging in a practice known as greenwashing. Unlike these brands, Girlfriend Collective has always been true to its mission, demonstrating a genuine commitment to environmental responsibility. 

The brand's rewards program focuses on sustainability, fostering a sense of environmentally conscious community among its members. 

Customers can earn 100 points for every step they take to safeguard the environment. Customers can earn points by planting a tree, cleaning up a local natural area, or volunteering at a charity, among other things. After that, the client needs to upload a photo of herself carrying out the good act, wear a GF item, with the hashtag #goodjobgf, and tag the business.

To advance through the loyalty program’s tiers, the company encourages customers to “Go Green, Earn More”. 

Customers can exchange points for early access to new collections, free shipping, and special savings. 

When clients return their Girlfriend Collective clothing items to be recycled into new ones, they will receive $15 toward a future purchase. 

Even the program's eye-catching name, "Recycle. Reuse. ReGirlfriend," is aligned with the three Rs of waste management: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It just shows the company’s commitment to sustainability, showcasing that they are no newcomers in the realm of environmental consciousness. They possess a solid understanding of how to protect the environment. What’s more, they have successfully created a sustainable activewear line that is both luxurious and environmentally friendly. 

Conclusion

Green Loyalty Programs are a win-win strategy for businesses, customers, and the environment.  Your customers can save money and the planet with green loyalty programs. These programs boost sales by rewarding loyal customers with eco-friendly incentives, keeping them engaged and happy. Additionally, they enhance the brand image by showcasing a commitment to sustainability.

By adopting green loyalty programs, companies can pave the way for a greener future. Examples like offering discounts for reusable products, planting trees for every purchase, or supporting eco-causes demonstrate how simple yet effective these programs can be.

By following these examples, you can create your green loyalty program, foster customer loyalty, drive sales, and contribute to a more sustainable world.

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