Customers are calling for sense and sustainability

Michael Stausholm, the mind behind the world’s first plantable pencils which are used by the likes of Michelle Obama, Disney and Coca-Cola, explores the realities of sustainability in business and its role in customer loyalty.

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Sustainability definition

Sustainability is a bit like the word disruption. It’s trendy, so everyone talks about it, but they don’t necessarily know what it stands for.

I have worked in sustainability in the corporate world for more than a decade and even I admit that it can be a hard notion to grasp. But when talking about being a sustainable business, asking questions in these three areas might bring more clarity:

  • Social sustainability: Do you offer ethical work conditions that empower people instead of exploiting them? This also goes for your suppliers. What do you know about their work conditions? Have you ever paid them a visit? Are your employees happy at work and do they feel appreciated? Does your company contribute to your community or to society in general?

  • Eco-friendly sustainability: What are your products made of? Are they produced using harmful chemicals? Can they be recycled after use? How do you handle shipping, do you produce overseas and then use a lot of CO2 to ship your products?

  • Economic sustainability: Are you generating profit on a long-term basis? The profit can be invested in the development of the business to ensure continuous growth. Profit AND planet should always be the consideration. Not one instead of the other.

So why is sustainability now top of the business agenda?

Because customers are demanding it, and without demand from consumers, there wouldn’t be an incentive for most companies to change their ways. It is consumer choices that are driving companies to be better and smarter at making sure that their supply chains and products are responsible and sustainable.

However, it’s becoming increasingly common for sustainability matters to come from the top-down i.e. from the C-suite, as opposed to the bottom-up, meaning sustainability checks are more likely to be held to account.

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Generally, what I see is that companies are in fact working on becoming green, simply because it IS the right thing to do. Not only are consumers generally demanding it (or saying they do), but governments are also implementing measures that require corporations to go from black to green. This, however, is not only because of rising demand for green initiatives and products, but also out of necessity, as many companies were hard-hit on their supply chain from China and India (and still are) as a result of the pandemic, and so are being forced to look at local production, which is so much better for the environment.

Sustainability is no longer just nice to have, but definitely now a need to have. Consumers want to purchase products from companies that make a difference. Employees demand a green focus, and governments and business partners require real action.

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Sprout and the power of sustainable customer experience strategies

My own company Sprout was founded in 2013 at a time when sustainability was something everyone was talking about, but few understood how to deal with, no matter if you were a corporation or a consumer. That has changed and is changing. The focus on climate change, responsible purchasing and sustainable production has never been bigger.

Sprout was born with the mission of fighting the use of plastic and encouraging people and companies to adopt more eco-sustainable habits, so sustainability is in the DNA of Sprout. We like to think of our Sprout pencil as a green messenger and icebreaker to start a conversation about sustainability. The product is an illustration of how easy sustainability can be: take a product and once you are finished with it, use it for something else, in this case, plant it and literally give the product a new life. It is about how we can do small things in our everyday lives, which when added up, can actually make a difference. A Sprout pencil cannot save the world, but it can hopefully help inspire small everyday changes. All too often, sustainability is too complicated and too big to comprehend for most of us.

So, far we’ve sold over 30 million plantable pencils – this means that there are potentially 30 million new plants out there growing from waste. And now, with our newly launched Plant A Tree edition pencil, we can even transform pencil stubs into trees!

Everything points to sustainability no longer being just a trend, but something that companies must integrate in their daily operations. COVID-19 has helped accelerate that process, perhaps not with immediate effect, but in the long run, just as companies have been forced to speed up digitalization. Sustainability is a moving train and you need to join it in First Class, or you will be left behind.

Tune into next week’s newsletter for Stausholm’s quick tips for boosting your brand’s sustainability while preserving your bottom line.

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