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A new generation of shoppers demand social and environmental responsibility

  • News
  • November 16, 2016
  • Sarah Dunn
A new generation of shoppers demand social and environmental responsibility

TVNZ journalist Simon Dallow hosted the seminar, which was held at Auckland’s Sky City today. In his introduction, Dallow referenced Donald Trump’s recent win and accompanying media coverage as he discussed how global news is now driven by stories and emotions which resonate with consumers at gut level.

‘Conscious business’ speaks to this trend, Dallow says. He describes the movement as “building value through values” and “mindful management”, explaining it encompasses aspects of social and environmental responsibility.

Keynote speaker John Elliott, managing director Australia and New Zealand for US shoe company Toms, worked in the mainstream footwear industry for companies like Nike before joining charity-oriented Toms. Toms was one of the first companies to popularise the one-for-one model, in which one item is given to the needy for each item sold at retail.

Elliott says founder Blake Mycoskie was focused on a particular Argentinian village when he first launched the business in 2006, and originally intended to sell 500 pairs of Toms: “It went crazy. Within six months, he’d sold 10,000 pairs.”

Toms has since adjusted its one-for-one model in response to criticism from charities over unintended consequences linked to it, such as local markets being flooded by superfluous product. Elliott admits Toms “didn’t give well” at the start, but is now aligned with NGOs to make sure the outcomes of its generosity are positive.

“[Giving] is not just to make you feel good, but for the people receiving the product.”

Toms has also diversified its offering, both in charity action and in retail products. Eyewear is accompanied by a corresponding charity initiative saving or restoring the sight of people in developing countries, and a coffee roastery is paired with a safe water initiative. Purchases of Toms bags trigger a gift of birthing kits and training aimed at reducing maternal mortality.

The company has given away more than 70 million pairs of shoes in over 70 countries, Elliott says.

Elliott says Millennials are a powerful market force making up almost half the workforce. He referenced a study indicating 88 percent of these wanted to work for or buy from a company with a positive social impact. Tapping into this desire can be hard work for companies not founded on these principles, Elliott says.

“Sometimes the consumer pigeonholes you, they go ‘Well, I don’t believe that’s who you are, you’re just a profit-making machine.’”

The key to winning them over is to find a social purpose which matches the company’s existing identity, and commit to it authentically. Toms’ one-for-one model won’t suit every business, Elliott says, and companies must ensure their commitment to positive change appears to be a genuinely-held transformation – “not just [actioned] because the bloody Millennials want me to.”

Businesses can achieve cut-through by quantifying their claims and using tools like those provided by B Corporation, of which Elliott is a non-executive director, to follow a proven path.

Elliott sounded a warning note for retailers when discussing a partnership with Scentre Group’s Westfield in Australia. Toms approached Westfield to request store premises and staff free of charge to run a pop-up shop, retail profits from which would be distributed among Bondi Junction Westfield’s charity of choice. The shopping centre consented and more than $16,500 was given to the charity after six weeks, on top of Toms’ standard one-for-one global gifting.

The pop-up was necessary because Toms wanted greater access to shoppers, Elliott says: “Sometimes retailers can be a speed bump to the consumer.”

A panel was also held to discuss conscious business. The panellists were: solid cosmetics company Ethique founder Brianne West; PwC NZ chair Michele Embling; DB Breweries managing director Andy Routney; and CEO in residence of Massey University Business School Mark Powell.

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