Whether it’s ‘climate strikes’ being named the Word of the Year, or Prince Harry driving an electric car, sustainability issues are in the headlines like never before.
While some businesses are fearful of making green investments in a time of economic uncertainty, most leaders believe a sustainability strategy is essential for competitiveness.
So what should brands know about sustainability today?
Why is sustainability good for business?
Here’s the key: it’s not an either/or situation between commercial viability and environmental sustainability. In fact, sustainability increasingly equals not only a healthier planet, but also greater profit margins. And here’s why:
You’ll make cost savings
Forget the old model of ‘take-make-waste’ and start thinking ‘circular economy’: designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.
It’s a principle that’s good for the environment – and can also cut your business’s expenditure on energy and materials.
You’ll attract new talent
Some 62% of Millennials want to work in a company that makes a positive impact on the world. Evidence also suggests that a company with a strong Corporate Social Responsibility commitment will engage and energise its workforce better, leading to increased productivity and better employee retention.
You’ll win new customers and investors
More and more potential investors – both governmental and private – are insisting on environmental credentials.
Among consumers, research from Unilever found one-third choose sustainable brands, representing an untapped €966 billion opportunity.
What credentials are meaningful?
So how do you demonstrate that your brand is not merely greenwashing, but is actively concerned about its planetary impact?
There are several programmes designed to guide, evaluate and reward companies who want to do the right thing – and prove it.
The internationally recognised standards are the ISO 14000 series, which cover environmental management. Certification proves you meet stringent requirements.
Meanwhile, Ecovadis scores companies on their CSR and environmental efforts, and LEED recognises green buildings.
There are several industry-specific schemes too which will put your business on the right path and reward your success.
What’s hot in 2021?
You already know about plastic waste and plane emissions. But what are the emerging topics that’ll be dominating the news and business agendas in 2021?
First up, hyper-transparency. More and more customers expect businesses to be accountable – and technology such as blockchain is making it feasible to trace all transactions. Customers will expect you to be able to answer questions about your brand’s impact on the environment, including that of your supply and value chains.
Secondly, net zero. It’s now UK Government policy to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. The details behind the announcement remain hazy, but it’s going to affect all sectors from transport to agriculture to industry to energy. Expect to see incentives and penalties emerge in the coming years.
Who are the pioneers?
Need some inspiration? There’s no shortage of innovation out there, so here are just a few brands transforming business models and products for the greener good.
Take the €50million sustainability loan agreed between luxury fashion brand Prada and financial services giant Crédit Agricole.
This allows Prada to alter the interest every year if it reaches certain eco goals, including achieving LEED gold or platinum certification for its stores and using the sustainable fabric Re-Nylon.
Perhaps Prada is targeting the 57% of all Londoners who are willing to pay more for sustainable fashion!
Another area commonly associated with environmental damage is packaging – particularly crucial for e-commerce, which is expected to double in the next decade. Numerous companies are now finding ways to reduce, reuse or recycle their packaging.
Nespresso coffee pods, for example, can now be compostable, with Which? declaring: “There’s no need to suffer a sub-standard brew in order to save the planet.”
And finally, never underestimate the power of our planet’s natural resources: from 2021, the venerable John Lewis’s trucks will be powered by the humble cow pat. Who knew the brown stuff could be so green!