In the age of conscious consumption, embedding sustainability into a business is no longer considered a ‘nice to have’ but is critical to long-term competitiveness and success. The impact goes beyond messaging and ‘doing good’ for the benefit of the planet and future generations. It should be regarded as an important driver of brand affinity and consumer trust.
In a Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey published by Deloitte, it was found that consumers expect brands to evidence how they address sustainability concerns and do so concretely and transparently. This is also fuelled by the growing awareness of ecological and social crises granted by the digital age, as well as consumers aligning their purchases with their values. As a result, positive societal change is being pushed further up the agenda for businesses.
Sustainability is a complex, multi-faceted issue, which involves taking a holistic approach both internally and externally. Despite being an enormous responsibility, it does offer many opportunities.
In my opinion, I believe embedding sustainability into a business can be done through the following key principles:
Transparency breeds accountability, which is a driving force towards positive change. More importantly, transparency builds credibility and fosters consumer trust over time.
Many businesses have taken the first step by implementing annual sustainability reports to demonstrate how they measure performance against set goals and objectives. This can be coupled with disclosure of metrics such as Carbon Footprint and Environmental, Social And Governance (ESG) results in hard numbers - rather than pledges alone.
One brand that has successfully committed to transparency in their supply chain management is Patagonia. When a customer clicks on any item on their site, customers have access to view every step of the supply chain. Information about where each item is made is also included on the product page.
In a survey conducted by EY, 84% of consumers say sustainability is important when making purchases, but 47% say that it costs too much to purchase sustainable products. This shows that cost is a perceived barrier for many consumers and often given as a reason to not switch purchasing behaviours.
In the short-term, investment requirements can put businesses off going further in their sustainability journey. But, in the long term, redesigning operating models can help to overcome cost-related barriers for consumers. For example, products that produce less waste, fewer emissions and/or last longer, can drive down costs and make sustainability more affordable.
To embed sustainability into a business means consumer engagement alone is not enough; organisation-wide engagement is essential. Policies and initiatives should not just be set by management or within specific departments, but by all staff, at all levels. Commitment towards company-wide policies can be strengthened organically and authentically through collaboration and active dialogue at every level, to demonstrate to employees that they have a role to play in creating an environmentally-conscious workplace and brand.
To summarise, I believe that sustainability doesn’t mean sacrificing profits or putting success on the backburner. Instead, embedding sustainability into a business can be seen as a crucial element to maximise a brand’s long-term value and success.