Guest Post by Maggie Potter
Sustainability is all the rage these days as the world works to address climate change and combat its negative effects. However, it’s important that sustainable business and marketing practices aren’t pigeonholed as simply a passing fad. Indeed, for the health of the planet, businesses of all sizes have a responsibility to offer ethically and socially responsible products, as well as create a sustainable work environment for your employees. And the benefits of sustainability at the business level span well beyond simply protecting the Earth.
From a business standpoint, advocating for sustainability is a smart move for your bottom line. In increasing numbers, consumers are on the lookout for eco-friendly products and business models and are even willing to pay more for sustainability. Nielsen reports that a full 49 percent of global consumers are willing to shell out more cash for products with high quality and safety standards, typically seen as synonymous with sustainable business models.
Unfortunately, the sustainable in the business sense isn’t always cut and dry. In the same Nielsen report, for instance, 41 percent of consumers reported interest in purchasing products labeled as organic. Yet that label (as well as similar buzzwords such as natural and eco-friendly) can be misleading, and consumers may not always receive what they believe they paid for.
To that end, businesses have a duty to ensure that product labels aren’t ambiguous or outright deceitful. Honesty, in tandem with upholding a brand’s reputation, is thus one of the booming trends in sustainable business and marketing practices in 2020. Let’s take a look at the widespread growth of sustainable practices and corporate social responsibility and what the future holds.
You may be surprised to learn this fact, but the fashion industry is one of the world's most wasteful. In the United States alone, approximately 26 billion pounds of textiles and clothing items end up in landfills annually. That exorbitant number doesn’t even account for the waste from the clothing production process, including trillions of gallons of water. Further, the fashion industry is responsible for the large-scale exploitation of overseas workers, many of which receive abysmal wages in an unsafe work environment.
As more consumers are becoming aware of the detrimental effect of so-called fast fashion, sustainable fashion is rising in popularity. The good news for consumers is that sustainable fashion doesn’t consist solely of high-end, custom-designed couture items, although that’s certainly part of it. Upcycling clothes and repurposing out-of-season items into more fashionable pieces are also integral to sustainable fashion, as is shopping for gently used, secondhand clothing items.
As we have seen, customers want to know where the items they purchase come from, and that knowledge is especially relevant when it comes to food products. The organic label first came about in the early 1990s, following the passage of the USDA’s Organic Food Production Act. To be granted a “certified organic label,” products must be produced without the use of pesticides, antibiotics, and other synthetic materials, as well as verified by a third party. Some of the most prominent organic certification entities in the United States include Oregon Tilth and the USDA itself. Textiles can also receive an organic certification if production standards are met.
In 2020, organics are no longer a niche market, and organic food products have become ubiquitous in grocery stores, specialty markets, and even restaurants across the country. Thus, when marketing organic food products, you need to stand out from the competition without compromising your company’s sustainability goals. It can be a fine line to walk, but building your brand around sustainability can help keep your company’s name at the forefront of consumer minds.
Another aspect of sustainable brand building and marketing is social responsibility. Socially conscious customers enjoy knowing that their investment in a product helps others in return. No matter the products or services your company provides, you’re likely to attract a wider client base simply by giving back to your community or a charitable organization.
While social responsibility is relevant and worthwhile on a small scale, some of the world’s biggest companies are doing their part as well, while watching their client base grow. For instance, Microsoft’s giving program has generated a total of $1.7 billion for more than 21,785 schools and nonprofits since 1983. Of course, not every company can match Microsoft’s philanthropy numbers, but giving back is still a viable tool for growing your consumer base and boosting the bottom line.
As a growing number of consumers and workers understand the benefits of recycling, in-office bins are commonplace. But in such a saturated business landscape, perhaps it's time to take your business to the next level of sustainability: Harnessing alternative energy.
Solar energy is the most popular source of alternative power in the United States, and its environmental and financial benefits are myriad. While you may balk at the initial investment costs, solar panels tend to start paying for themselves in short order, and you’re effectively taking charge of your utility cost, which can be empowering and enlightening. What’s more, your investment in alternative energy is likely to bring in environmentally conscious customers and retain them over the long haul.
In lieu of solar panel installation, businesses also have the option to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) to help offset carbon emissions. Investing in clean energy is expected to remain a popular trend in the foreseeable future, according to Reuters. In fact, U.S. green energy investments brought in a record $55.5 billion in 2019, a strong indication that sustainability remains an important consideration among consumers and executives alike.
The consumer-led push towards widespread sustainability and corporate responsibility isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The need to implement sustainable business practices, therefore, is imperative to the profit margins of every modern company, no matter the size or business model. In light of climate change and its detrimental effects worldwide, sustainability is no longer simply a trend, but a way of life.
Magnolia Potter is a muggle from the Pacific Northwest who writes from time to time and covers a variety of topics. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book.