In recent years sustainability has grown as a demand generation strategy. For some consumers, sustainability has been a purchasing input for a long time, and others are just discovering the joy of choosing products that serve both a functional and a sustainable purpose. Considerations in shopping can range from actively seeking eco-friendly options for all or certain purchases to being pleased to learn something you purchased happens to have an environmental or social benefit.
While there remain many people out there, in consumer and business contexts, who are not incorporating sustainability into their purchasing criteria, we've hit a tipping point when it comes to environmental or social impact factoring into the buying processes. In other words, this isn't just a fad that will fizzle out. Nonetheless, many executives are still playing the "customers don't want it" card.
Customers are asking for it, and I'll share some data in a moment to prove that, but even if they don't outright ask for it, that does not mean they are not interested. Remember this goes back to the "we don't know where to start" excuse. That's often because the customers themselves don't know what questions to ask or what to look for.
The excuse that "customers don't want it" is often actually stated "customers don't want to pay for it" and while it's true that there is some research that supports this gap between buyers' intentions and actions, this statement is predicated on the idea that sustainability will drive up prices. It might, but before you jump to that conclusion, do the supply chain and market research to build the business case.
An excellent way to maximize sustainability from a revenue perspective is to actively invite customers to participate and benefit.
The best place to start is to align the sustainability efforts with the reasons they are already choosing your brand. I alluded to this in previous lessons, so hopefully, by now, you have picked up on this overall theme of alignment. This really is the concept of synergy. The more alignment you have among your sustainability initiatives and the interests of executives, employees, and customers, the more momentum and impact your programs will have.
For customers, if your brand is all about performance, then show how sustainability improves the function of the product. If your brand is all about wellness, show how sustainability makes the service a healthier option. If your brand is about ethics and community care, show how efforts to heal the planet are directly tied to healing people and communities.
And if the naysayer you are dealing with needs some cold, hard facts, there are lots of studies that support consumers' interest in sustainability. A Nielsen report from a 2018 global survey showed 81% of respondents felt strongly that companies should help improve the environment. Of particular note is the 21% who said they would choose a brand if the company would make sustainability credentials clearer on labels!
When I suggest you invite customers to participate, it can be as simple as better describing the sustainability features of your offerings. More prominent placement of environmental benefits on labels, signage, and your website. Storytelling to articulate the value and beauty of the positive impact such that customers can experience the emotional boost of making a difference through their purchase.
To address the skeptic about consumer interest in sustainability, look for research to support your claims such as the report I referenced earlier. I recommend you check out websites such as GreenBiz, that's greenIz.com or sustainable brands.com. There are many other great online periodicals and resources – just search for one that matches your preferences. Also, search the website of any industry or professional associations for research they have sponsored.
Now if you are in more of a business to business buying scenario, there is a similar dynamic. Buyers generally aren't sure what exactly to ask for. And if they do ask for something, they may not be entirely sure how to read or interpret what they're given; therefore, very few will use this as a deciding factor. Not only does the buyer not know what to ask, the person they ask, which is generally a supplier account manager, is not likely to know how to answer the question confidently. It's easier to just not bring it up than to face an uncomfortable conversation about an unknown topic.
If this is the situation you are in, encourage dialogue among those who "speak the same language" of sustainability. You can ask the sustainability experts on your side to have a discussion with the sustainability experts on their side. It's a learning opportunity for all, and that level of relationship building is likely to lead to a favorable outcome when the time to choose a vendor. And often can even lead to product innovations and other business benefits.
We're getting towards the end of our list so let's wrap up the excuses in the next lesson, which is to imagine a better future.