Most companies fail to see sustainability as an opportunity
Earlier this month, our Innovation Catalyst and public speaking champion, Sebastian Tarkowski, participated in the Sustainability and packaging conference 2017 in Barcelona. Here are some reflections he’d like to share with you!
No matter how many times I participate in events around sustainability, I tend to always observe a similar pattern. The fact that many players have sustainability on their agenda, but most fail to see it as an opportunity to differentiate their proposition from competition. To get ahead by making a difference – by letting consumers make a difference through their products!
Instead, most companies like to chase low hanging fruit within their existing value chain, i.e. reducing material weight, reducing height to fit more layers on a pallet, using partially recycled material. Which, don’t get me wrong, you still should. But, that’s not a way to make true impact, taking products that are bad for the environment and making them slightly less bad will not save the world. However, changing behaviours, will!
The number one challenge most companies face, from a marketing perspective, is how to stand out in a saturated market where everything is pretty much good enough and everyone is trying to communicate using the same strained media landscape.
How can you get anyone to listen, when everybody is screaming? How can you be unique, when you are not special? The answer to that is obvious, innovation. To do something in a way no one else is doing it. And, thanks to consumer research, such as the BillerudKorsnäs Consumer Panel Report, we can now confidently say that consumers have started to value sustainable propositions, especially younger consumers (Millennials or Gen z).
These generations are actively conscious about the environment more than any other generation before, especially because they are aware that climate change and environmental issues will have a great impact on their future. But the catch is, that although they want to make a difference, they either don’t know how to, or want it to be really easy to do so. For example, if someone offered them better, sustainable solutions, they wouldn’t hesitate to choose those.
That’s why I urge all you big corporate giants out there to stop optimising and start innovating. Let’s find those solutions that empower consumers to make a real difference, through your products. Start by offering solutions that make it simple to choose better, with initiatives like reducing plastic in the oceans, tackling food waste, promoting recycling and enabling a circular economy. Not to mention, take the opportunity to turn propositions that shift focus from pointless consumption, that’s bad for the environment, to meaningful experiences that make us appreciate your efforts.
Will it be inconvenient? Yes! Will it be costly? Probably… Will it reward you with new business opportunities? Definitely! Will it allow you to recruit the best talents? Honestly, where would you yourself rather work? At your current employer, or at a business challenging the market with real sustainability?
I’ve enclosed a small test for you and your products in the image above. Answer it truthfully. If you’re not in the top right corner you have work to do!
For your enjoyment, here are a couple of reflections from the conference I’d like to highlight:
The silliest thing heard at the conference: Hearing a leading soft drinks producer claim that they could never go (back) to returnable bottles (which is still the most sustainable and cost-efficient way to distribute drinks after bag-in-box or draught) because there is no way to sell anything with a profit/premium in that packaging format.
My thoughts, if the only value you are offering is actually the packaging surrounding your product, then maybe you are in the wrong business.
The best thing heard at the conference: Listening to Kevin Vyse from Marks & Spencer. Not only are M&S making great things even better, through Plan A, they are talking the talk as much as walking the walk too. Hearing him ask everyone in the room if they are really prepared to look their grandchildren in their eyes, and say they tried their best, was easily the best (and the most awkward) moment at the entire conference.