Once upon a time, sustainability was an optional focus for companies. While many were eager to capitalize on efficiencies that could drive business and environmental value, sustainability was a set of tactics—not a leading business strategy. But those days are gone.
The realities of climate change have become stark and undeniable for human beings worldwide, leading to overt shifts in consumer behaviors, attitudes, and expectations. But these shifts toward sustainability mindfulness aren’t one-and-done; the story isn’t over.
Consumers don't want a sustainable business model from the brands they patronize; they expect it. Recent research from Nielsen is among the many data sources making this clear. As a result, modern businesses not only need to adjust their sustainability strategies accordingly, but they also need to anticipate what’s coming next and be able to respond.
Let’s examine what the newest chapter in consumers’ changing, eco-focused mindsets means for your company or your role as a sustainability leader.
A New Era of Sustainability Is on the Rise
Environmental sustainability has been a part of the average consumer’s consciousness for decades. However, seeing is believing. And the environmental impacts of pollution and climate change are more visible than ever…
Consumer awareness, engagement, and mobilization around the need for sustainable solutions has been increasing rapidly this century, placing increasing pressure on corporations and governments to take the training wheels off. And it’s happening.
Governments are growing partnerships and enacting sweeping policies. Meanwhile, many companies are developing more aggressive and eco-friendly strategies that extend beyond the four walls of their organizations. In fact, hundreds of organizations worldwide have made science-based target commitments, which will require rigorous goal setting and action to achieve. Sustainability is clearly becoming a strategic business decision, not just an optional nice-to-have.
However, not all organizations fully understand the stakes, the required adjustments, and the path to making it work. This isn’t to say that companies are unwilling to change, rather they may not know where to begin.
Your Consumers Want You to Take the Sustainability Wheel
Around the globe, outspoken advocates are making their voices heard as the dangers of climate inaction become more clearly evident. Others are more quietly letting their wallets do the talking.
Educated about the true environmental impact of common business practices and armed with the tools to make purchasing decisions based on their own research, consumers continue to expect more corporate responsibility, transparency, and accountability from the companies they do business with.
But they’re not just asking companies to get in line with this directive. They’re asking companies to lead. According to Nielsen, 81% of global respondents reported they feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. And consumers not only want to engage with organizations taking an active role in sustainability practices, they want to engage with those that help them reduce their own carbon footprint, as well.
The bottom line? Sustainability has become personal. With three out of four consumers saying they'd likely change their consumption habits to reduce their own environmental impact, they're leaning toward choosing companies that can support and bolster their personal efforts. Some already have.
In 2016, nearly one-third of Americans reported rewarding companies that are taking steps to reduce global warming by purchasing their products at least once in the last year. And, one-in-five people “punished” companies not taking climate action by avoiding their products.
Furthermore, Nielsen reports that nearly half of global respondents say they’re willing to pay higher-than-average prices for products with high quality and safety standards, which they associate with strong sustainability practices. So, how can you show consumers you are both talking the talk and walking the walk with your environmental practices?
Taking Action on Sustainability
But sustainability is a journey. Elevating your organization to “hero status” doesn’t happen overnight. It all starts with devising an agile strategy—one that accounts for short-term, long-term, and possible futures.
“By identifying an opportunity to be more sustainable, and implementing a reasonable plan of action to accomplish it, companies achieve an authenticity that paid advertising can’t buy,” according to Crystal Barnes, SVP of Global Responsibility & Sustainability at Nielsen.
Regardless of where you are in your sustainability journey, creating an action plan starts with a deep and holistic review of your organization’s footprint. Reducing water or energy waste was a good first step, but only that. Your organization needs to assess strengths and shortcomings across the supply chain, and at each facility in the context of its local culture, compliance requirements, and ecosystem. You also need to account for possible futures.
It’s a lofty undertaking, requiring expertise, resources, engagement, and collaboration. So, start small: Talk with an experienced sustainability consulting firm. A team of seasoned consultants can help you gain an unbiased perspective and insight into what other similar businesses are doing—before you allocate budget, time, and resources, or make public promises that can’t be easily met.
Learn how Antea Group helped a global healthcare and medical research company develop a global sustainability strategy.
Write the Next Chapter of Your Company’s Sustainability Strategy
Consumers have made their expectations clear. So the question is: Are you prepared to meet and even exceed them?
Now, more than ever, companies need to work to elevate their sustainability strategies to protect our world and their businesses. At the end of the day, the health of the environment impacts the health and well-being of consumers, which impacts the health of your bottom line.
How can Antea Group aid you on your sustainability journey? Learn more about our sustainability consulting services.