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What a Wardrobe Management App and a Meatless Burger Can Tell Us about Sustainability

Sometimes when you want consumers to change their behavior, it’s not helpful to beat them over the head with something they don’t inherently want to do. No one wants to be strong-armed into “doing the right thing.” What usually works, on the other hand, is positioning your message and value proposition in a way that will resonate.

That’s the tactic that savvy brands, including Impossible Foods and the forthcoming mobile app Save Your Wardrobe, have taken to do some good—without making people feel guilty for their choices.

Impossible Foods—a company that wants to replace meat with plant-based ingredients—was at a “fingers-crossed moment” two-and-a-half years ago, but now its product is featured in 2,000 restaurants nationwide, including a new partnership with White Castle that’s bringing the brand truly into the mainstream and mass market.

There’s plenty of science and research backing Impossible Foods’ ground-beef substitute: for one, 50 percent of the world’s usable land goes to raising cattle, Jordan Schenck, head of global consumer marketing, said at PSFK’s CXI conference. “We live on a fraction of this, and we feel like we have massive footprint.”

That “usable land” is the area “you can physically pull resources from,” she said, including the acreage that grows the crops to feed cattle, wherever potable water is sourced—and the grazing land, which is “just a fraction” of that 50 percent. On top of that 90 percent of Earth’s woodlands have been deforested, in large part for agriculture and organized farming, Schenck said, and a quarter of the planet’s freshwater supply is diverted for watering animals and the crops needed to fatten them up.

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Then there’s the methane gas factor, which isn’t just about “cow farts,” Schenk explained. From using vehicles to reach cows for feeding to shuttling processed meat to points of purchase, bovine husbandry contributes as much in environmentally damaging emissions as the entire transportation sector, she added. “Really heavy stuff.”

Plus, with one in eight living animals a cow, the meat industry is responsible for the today’s limited biodiversity.

Impossible Foods came up with a meat substitute that uses 95 percent less land, 75 percent less freshwater, contributes to far lower emissions and involves “zero” animals compared with the resources needed to produce a traditional burger, Schenck said.

Those stats are great—but is that what ultimately will compel a meat lover to switch?

“Enter marketing,” Schenck said. “In reality human perception was still in the space of [meat substitutes always taste like] cardboard. ‘Science is scary in food.’ Vegan is a terrible line that no meat eater will ever cross because heaven forbid you would ever do that.

“And also nobody wants to feel bad about the decisions they’re making,” Schenck explained. “We had a lot of hills to overcome regardless of how wonderful and delicious the product was.”

Then there’s human behavior and psychology to consider. “We’re forever blissfully unaware of the mess we make and will forever intend to want to be that way,” Schenck said. “Humans do not care if they use a plastic bag, drink out of a bottle of water, eat meat—and that’s just because it’s really hard to put that information in your mind in any given day and assume you’re going to [behave accordingly].”

People often have deep-seated emotional connections to food, and those bonds are hard to break even when eaters understand the rational arguments against a particular product. “We’re gonna eat meat because it’s good and tasty and it’s here for me right now,” Schenk said of how consumers usually feel in the moment. “So we knew this, and we knew that meant all these wonderful things that the product did for Planet Earth was not going to be the way that we brought this to the world.”

The way forward, she said, was to bring the Impossible Burger directly to consumer taste-testers instead of rushing straight to retail like most ingredient consumer-packaged goods brands. Everyone could validate for themselves whether the meat-free sandwich was a worthy substitute that satisfied their cravings for an “unctuous burger.” After that, the startup partnered with top chefs, including New York City’s David Chang of Momofuku and San Francisco’s Chris Cosentino, the father of the “snout-to-tail movement” who rose to fame by winning “Top Chef Masters” and competing on “The Next Iron Chef.”

When introducing a product like Impossible Foods, it’s important to partner with chefs who fall on the “meaty” end of the meat spectrum, Schenk said of the company’s not-at-all-scientific process for selecting the prominent cooks who would be instrumental in evangelizing the plant-based substitute. Because if a high-profile meat enthusiast is happy to work with Impossible Foods, he’s likely to bring some of his fans and followers right along with him.

That “build a good product and people will come” approach to steering consumers toward sustainability in a way they find to be meaningful is also evident in a new mobile app that will launch in beta next month.

Our wardrobes need a savior

Let’s face it: many Americans overconsume when it comes to clothing. We buy because there’s a new trend in town, because Kendall Jenner wore it on Instagram, because wedding season is here, because it was marked way down and you “didn’t want to lose money on it.”

Though shopping often provides a demonstrable dopamine high in the moment, that excitement over fabulous new finds often fades into the stark reality that chaos controls our closets. We simply have too much stuff.

The Save Your Wardrobe (SYR) platform plays into the “decluttering” movement inspired by gurus like Marie Kondo and her gospel that preaches the power of tidying up. Take back your wardrobe, the message goes, and take back the peace of mind that comes with streamlined, simplified living. According to Kondo, if an item doesn’t give you joy—get rid of it.

With all of this excess clothing hanging around, many consumers suffer from a lack of visibility into what they already own—which can drives unnecessary purchases of “duplicate” items. That’s where SYR comes in. The app aims to help consumers better understand and utilize the fashion filling their closets.

SYR leans on artificial intelligence and computer vision to bring its goals of wardrobe-salvation to life. App users can photograph their apparel, which the platform’s tech can recognize often down to the specific brand. It also scans your emails to update your digitized wardrobe, pulling in details from any fashion you purchase online. Users can browse partner ShopStyle and save desired items to wish lists for future reference. Plus, SYR will sync with users’ calendars in order to recommend purchases timed for upcoming events, such as a holiday abroad, a black-tie event or an important job interview, according to a Forbes article.

For those who want the full experience, SYR offers to dispatch an “experienced stylist” who can take on the hassle of scanning the contents of your closet into your digital library—and can recommend new styles to complement existing pieces.

By offering to give consumers their time back, SYR positions itself as a lifestyle tool. Though one of its missions is to encourage sustainably-minded purchasing in an apparel industry that contributes to 15 million tons of textile waste annually in the U.S., SYR never comes right out and says that. The “s” word can feel too weighty, too monumental—too much of a chore and a bore. But as the SYR website says, “we help you focus on your well-being” —and that’s precisely the kind of mindset and mantra driving people into yoga studios and juice bars.

On the back end, SYR is making a play for fashion brands, which will have to pony up to receive consumer data and behavioral insights drawn from the app. For example, one of SYR’s features lets users assign their wardrobe items to categories such as “alterations,” “dry cleaning,” “repair” and “resale.” Brands might want to know how quickly after purchase a garment needs to mended or at what point the consumers wants to divert a frock to a consignment shop. But the big picture for brands is that SYR can yield insights into specific demographic groups that might aid in better designing future collections.

Maybe a slick lifestyle-oriented app is the catalyst consumers need to become the sustainable shoppers they aspire to be.