Sustainability skeptics often claim that companies invest in product sustainability primarily to “look good” in the eyes of consumers. By their logic, the only fiscal benefits of sustainability come from increased sales related to brand enhancement. To them, sustainability is just another form of brand marketing.
But they are wrong, according to a new report by sustainability consulting firm Pure Strategies. Companies that invest in product sustainability actually see the most benefit from reduced manufacturing costs — ahead of brand enhancement and even risk reduction.
The Path to Product Sustainability is based on a quantitative survey of 100 global consumer product companies involved in product sustainability, as well as qualitative interviews with heads, directors and managers of sustainability at companies such as the Coca-Cola Co., Timberland, Seagate, RB and Henkel.
The report says “performing” companies recognize the importance of integrating sustainability into product development, as notably more performing companies will be further strengthening their sustainability focus during product development. This is a driving differentiator in product sustainability program performance.
Product sustainability goals are the most common best practice among performing companies that claim to have achieved widespread financial and organizational benefits from their programs, according to the report. A total 97 percent of these firms reported the existence of goals that guide programs to deliver on internal and external benefits.
Sustainability product assessments inform decisions for 90 percent of performing companies, compared to 61 percent of companies lower down the sustainability path. Supplier engagement, customer scorecards, and chemicals/materials of concern assessments were cited as the tools and approaches that deliver the most value.
Notably, no single company surveyed is expecting a decrease in funding in the next year for their product sustainability program. Quite the contrary; the product development process is expected to see a notable increase in sustainability focus over the next two years — in particular during the early phases of concept and bench top/pilot scale development, the report finds.
Turns out that product sustainability programs are not the brainchild of marketers or even corporate outliers; corporate strategy and CEO vision were the most-cited internal drivers behind product sustainability programs. Retailer programs were the most-cited external drivers, and supplier engagement ranked as the most valuable product sustainability assessment approach.
“While it takes substantial organizational commitment to integrate sustainability into the core business effectively, there is a clear payback,” said Tim Greiner, managing director and cofounder of Pure Strategies. “By learning from these leaders, our study points to a product sustainability path that can propel a company from preparing—to progressing—to performing at the highest level of product sustainability.”
Image credit: Flickr Lawrence Whittemore
Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainability, social entrepreneurship, tech, politics and law. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)