The New “Unique Selling Proposition” for Sustainability

By Ben Vivian

Isn’t it funny how, sometimes, you write something, look at it for a while and then suddenly it hits you? If you go to our website homepage you will see “Uncovering Sustainability Potential” – which we came up with more than a year ago, yet neither of us spotted that the acronym was USP until the other day.

All of us know USP as Unique Selling Proposition (or Point), something that all businesses seek and few truly find. Each acronym has words that people struggle with, I could go on and on about the misuse of the word “unique,” and the big challenge that the breadth of the definition of sustainability has created.

We came up with our version of USP, because we recognised that most organisations have the potential to operate more sustainably. To produce products that are more sustainable to the environment, to society and economically to the organisation. Any business that seeks to operate within the confines of societal expectations – the law – can be USP.

What does USP mean in practice? Fundamentally in order to uncover sustainability potential, an organisation must go beyond basic legal compliance. The law sets the acceptable minimum, while others in society set different expectations. Simply complying with the law isn’t going to uncover anything but it is an essential starting point, because ignoring the law is a business risk too far. But looking ahead at the future directions of legislation can help to uncover potential.

Is there a trick to USP? We think there is, and it is that you must get well into the detail. Grand ideas, commitments and strategies all have their point, but to uncover sustainability potential you need to get into the detail. Whether it is details of materials, design or understanding the needs of others, the detail is where the answer lies and where the challenges are, if ignored. By understanding the details of components, by challenging ‘business as usual’ and listening properly to others’ views, you can see what hasn’t been seen before and begin to change it.

When many discuss our current society’s progress towards being more sustainable, there is an expectation that we can instantly change everything for the good. We look back on history and the industrial revolution and expect change to be revolutionary – and this is another word that gets in the way of our understanding. Revolution implies an instantaneous change but the industrial revolution took generations – most believe it took roughly one hundred years between 1750 and 1850.

Changing to become more sustainable as a society will take a long time while the planet we live on is undergoing its own rapid change. Uncovering Sustainable Potential should become the new USP because if we don’t start soon to get into the details of what needs to be done, then nothing will change. We will make mistakes and we will be slow but we believe we will get there. Those that get there faster will reap the early rewards and set the agenda.

The biggest difference between the old USP and our new USP is that few truly discover and distil a Unique Selling Proposition, whereas we all need to be Uncovering Sustainability Potential.

Ben Vivian is the Co-Founder of Vivian Partnership Ltd.

image: Jun Acullador via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)

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