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How 'Green Giants' Use Sustainability To Grow Sales

By Bill Roth

The business case for sustainability is already made. Author Freya Williams' book, "The Green Giants," documents the growing trend of companies achieving at least a billion dollars per year in green product sales. These companies include Costco, which sells over $4 billion in organic food annually, and Walmart, which annually sells $1 billion in products that achieve high scores on its internal Sustainability Index.

The question every business leader should ask is: How can I reshape my company to realize this revenue growth opportunity?

The six factors that drive green sales success

In "Green Giants," Williams identifies six factors common to companies with at least a billion dollars in annual green product sales. They are:

Leadership. Commitment by a senior leader, especially the CEO, is the foundational step common among Green Giants. In these companies, sustainability is not just a staff function. Sustainability is central to the CEO’s vision. And it's integrated into the entire business strategy.

Disruptive innovation. Green Giants use sustainability to drive innovation. Sustainability drives their use of lean manufacturing tools to achieve goals like zero-waste manufacturing that reduce both costs and environmental impacts. Sustainability drives these firms' use of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, solar or the Internet of Things to win customers while also addressing problems like global warming. A poster child for this trend is Tesla and its disruptive solutions in solar, batteries and AI technology that enable zero-emissions autonomous driving.

Purpose beyond profit. Purpose sells, especially among millennials. Williams calls this the Purpose Paradox: "The purpose paradox is that companies with a purpose beyond making money end up making more money!"

Patagonia is a prime example: The outdoor gear giant built intense loyalty with millennials by focusing on what’s best for the environment rather than what is best for selling more product.

Built in, not bolted on. Sustainability is not a staff function for Green Giants. It is integrated into every function within the organization. Increasingly, it is being integrated into every job.

Incentives. Sustainability performance and work associate compensation are tied together for Green Giants, especially for the CEO. This moves sustainability from a nice-to-have to a business imperative. It makes sustainability a core motivation for work associate performance.

Mainstream appeal. Green Giants are pioneering marketing innovations. These companies reshaped their marketing messaging to communicate how their products taste better, make consumers feel cool or save money. The mainstream appeal message focuses on what sustainability can do for the consumer in terms of his or her goals and aspirations.

New behavioral contract. Green Giants are pursuing a business culture based on transparency, responsibility and collaboration. The revenue growing mantra is “behaving your way to billions.” I call this social media authenticity: Today’s consumers are deciding what to buy based on what fellow their friends, work associates, and companies and NGOs post on social media. This is the new form of advertising in the 21st century. Today’s business brands are defined by authenticity earned through what Williams calls the "new behavioral contract."

Exclusive interview with "Green Giants" author Freya Williams

If your company is searching for revenue growth -- and what company isn’t -- then this exclusive interview with Freya Williams taken at Sustainable Brands 2016 is a must-watch. In this video, Williams outlines best practices that will grow sales by making a difference.


Bill Roth headshot

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

Read more stories by Bill Roth