How can companies influence consumer demand for more sustainable products and services?
This was the topic of a panel session I chaired at this week’s Green Strategy conference run by Green Mondays and featuring sharp thinkers from BSkyB, Nissan and Ogilvy Earth. And a question that is hot on the agenda for Forum's Sustainability and Brands Round Table.
Why is this such an important question?
So, what’s the answer? Well, first, there are two myths that need busting.
Myth 1: Everyday citizens don’t care about sustainability issues. Of course people care about environmental and social issues, but what they care about will vary according to country and circumstance, and might be a very specific segment of the broad sustainability pie. Right now, in the UK for example, general engagement with environmental issues has fallen since start of the recession. A recent report by Unilever and the Futures Company showed that the % of UK consumers agreeing that living an environmentally conscious lifestyle is important has fallen from 50% in 2008 at the start of the recession, to 45% in 2012.
However, over the same period, willingness to tackle immediate and specific issues, such as energy use, food waste, has increased. And our approach to communicating this agenda has not helped dispel this myth. By relegating sustainability to eco sub brands we haven’t seen cut through of this agenda. Time then to integrate sustainability issues into the core brand proposition.
Myth 2: Sustainable products and services cost more. It is true that certification of commodities costs money. But is this a cost, or an investment in securing supply of vital raw materials, without which there is no business? It is also true that investing in new technologies costs money, but again, isn’t this just smart business? Equally, when a company implements serious sustainability programmes they save money and create new revenue streams. Economies of scale can mean that services and products become cheaper to produce. Which all means that it may not be necessary to pass on any changes in internal cost to the consumer. And if your business model forces you to do this, perhaps it isn’t the right one? Time then to integrate sustainability into the core business model.
With these two myths relegated to the graveyard of eco sub-brands and green marketing, what are the practical steps a business can take to create consumer demand, and move sustainability from niche to normal? These were the top tips that surfaced in our panel discussion:
There is lots of great practice out there right now. It just isn’t to scale. And the route to scale? Collaborate. With NGOs around specific issues, with communities, and with other businesses. One brand on its own isn’t going to shift mainstream consumer perception. That’s why at Forum we’ve created a Sustainability and Brands Roundtable.
As the meercats say, simples.
For more information on our Sustainability and Brands Roundtable please click here.