Sustainability Mythbusters Part VI: There’s No Consumer Demand for Sustainability
Welcome to the Sustainability Mythbusters series presented by Schneider Electric. In this six-part series, Schneider Electric’s Global Sustainability Services team explores common misconceptions related to the topic of sustainability and presents a business case to “bust” each myth.
Selectively search the Internet and it’s usually easy to find the research one needs to back up a stance. That used to be the case when talk turned to whether or not there’s demand from consumers for more sustainability in the companies they deal with.
The tide seems to be turning toward consumers who prefer, if not outright demand, more sustainable products and services. And even if some research shows that people may still be on the fence about whether or not they’d pay more for sustainability, it’s becoming clear that more people are choosing sustainability.
This shift has come, in part, from that fact that consumers view sustainable products as better for their health and the environment. According to the 2013 Tork Sustainability Study conducted by Harris Interactive, 78 percent of consumers say they buy green products and services, up from 69 percent a year prior. Of those in the 2013 survey, 20 percent cite health reasons – an increase of 8 percent over 2012 – and 47 percent say they do so because of the products’ effects on the environment.
Consumers also see the implications of sustainability in terms of its costs. Given sustainable options at similar costs, consumers by and large will go with the more sustainable product or service. They may not lean that way, however, if the cost difference is too significant.
But there is more to the price than what is on the tag as many products often don’t include externalized costs. In this day and age of accessible information, consumers have become more aware about where the products they purchase come from. They’re more cognizant of transportation costs – something that hits their own wallets in the form of high gas prices.
Similarly, when it comes to sustainability and cost, the less expensive price tag doesn’t always reveal the true – and less sustainable costs – of cheap labor. When comparing similar products, a cheaper product may not simply reflect a lesser quality of materials or craftsmanship, but it may have been produced with ultimately higher costs to the environment and the communities in which it was produced.
People today care about these impacts more than ever. Just as consumers are pushing for greater sustainability, so too are holding companies bearing greater accountability for producing tangible results from their corporate social responsibility programs, according to research conducted by the marketing firm Cone Communications.
These increasing pressures have in part helped redefine supply chains, as more companies looking to serve ever-more conscientious consumers have begun to restrict their supplier lists to those who meet certain requirements for sustainability. The most well-known of these is Walmart, but other manufacturing and retail giants, such as Unilever, Philips and Ford Motor Company, have made sustainability an important component of the relationships they build with their suppliers.
Though these changes are gradual, they’re already making a difference. According to a 2012 Accenture Carbon Disclosure Project survey, 4 percent of large corporations have actually ditched suppliers who fail to meet environmental objectives; an additional 40 percent noted that they are likely to follow suit in the near future.
Part of the trend is driven by regulation, of course, but there’s also an increasing awareness that sustainability-focused companies are able to outperform their peers. They do so not only by running more efficiently, reducing waste and cutting costs – something that Schneider Electric has helped many companies achieve – but also by enjoying greater appeal and loyalty from consumers who value a more sustainable company.
So, the demand from consumers for sustainability is here. It may not be as directly evident as other popular trends, but it is real, it is increasing and its implications will continue to influence the way of the world in the years to come.
Jean Pasternak is the Director of Sustainability (Asia-Pacific) at Schneider Electric. Jean leads Schneider Electric’s sustainability operations in Asia-Pacific with primary responsibility to define strategies for growth across the region and drive value across the group and for customers. Prior to Schneider Electric, Jean gained more than 15 years experience in the energy and infrastructure sectors. Schneider Electric has a proven record of leading organizations to thriving sustainability programs across economic, environmental, and social dimensions. As a global leader in sustainability services, the company provides an unmatched end-to-end solution that encompasses every phase of the sustainability journey. Through our offering of strategy, technology, and implementation, Schneider Electric is able to drive successful sustainability programs that accelerate business performance. Learn more about Schneider Electric’s Sustainability Services at, https://vimeo.com/58187366, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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