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Guest Column: Are sustainable products more saleable?

July 2009

The jury may still be out but companies are seeking more rigorous sustainability information and more effective customer dialogue to support the sales process, says Simon Aumonier, ERM’s head of product stewardship

Corporate sustainability is about protecting and enhancing your organization’s performance. This is true in the boom times but never more so than in a downturn when sustainability, like every other facet of operations, has to be justified for its ability to deliver real value.

What does this mean at the sharp end? If being sustainable means ethical sourcing, low carbon and reduced packaging what can it do for sales and future market share? In product terms can sustainable really mean more saleable?

This sustainability conundrum – the case for a 'must do' imperative as opposed to a 'nice to have' option –  is facing a growing number of organizations rights across the supply chain. Thus the big supermarkets are now seeking to educate their customers on the issue of over-fishing. Why? Because in the UK, at least, they now handle between 80 and 90 per cent of all fish caught. Being seen – and being understood – to act responsibly is an essential part of maintaining supplies and, ultimately, protecting direct and indirect sales.

Such enlightened self interest is continuing to put product sustainability in the spotlight. Recent examples include the launch of 'green' mobile handsets with a carbon footprint 15 per cent lower than current models, and Philips’s target to double sales from green products by 2012. In my experience, for these products to be saleable they need to be as good as – or better than – other products while also having the right sustainability performance and integrity.

Arguably, there has never been a better time to demonstrate the virtues of product sustainability. The challenge is to do your homework firstly on the product’s sustainability footprint across its value chain  and secondly on how to incorporate and present key benefits to the market. Opting to sell only Marine Stewardship Council certified fish might well fit this equation; so too might the decision to develop a low carbon range of food products. The key is to put yourself in a position to make informed decisions – so your customers can do the same.

Clearly one of the greatest challenges facing those seeking to sell, make or distribute sustainable products and services is making sense of the evidence – and then having a sensible dialogue with customers. This can apply to everything from clothes washing temperatures and carbon footprinting to ethical sourcing.

The messages around product sustainability can be complicated at the best of times. That said, consumers are hungry for clear, well argued and well supported information. If the message makes sense, sustainable can indeed mean more saleable.



Simon Aumonier | Global | Sustainability

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