Is sustainability just another consumer trend? Unravelled Consultants founder and director Vanessa Thompson considers the longevity of this wide-ranging movement.
We are living in a changing world. A world that has been impacted by hundreds of years of human invention, development and growth, which has ultimately led to abuse. We have taken our planet for granted, and there is no longer any give in this relationship – only take. The saying "business as usual" is no longer relevant.
I have been asked by a few businesses if sustainability is just a trend, and if consumers will move on to something new in a couple of months. Sadly, our need for sustainability in business and in life is not a just a trend - it is imperative. For businesses, people and our planet to survive, we need to make changes now.
Throughout history, companies have been mainly focused on profit, generally a short-term target that increases every year. They have carried on cutting costs and increasing margins, producing more stock, driving extreme markdowns and selling as much as they can in order to achieve these targets.
We need to change this thinking! Don’t we want our businesses to exist in 10, 20 or even 100 years’ time? Don’t we want our staff, shareholders and customers to thrive in a business that believes in taking responsibility for its actions and listening to the voice of their customers?
In August 2019, the Business Roundtable (which represents 181 leading U.S companies, including Walmart and Apple), declared that purpose and profit were inextricably linked. Since 1997, the Business Roundtables’ annual document has focused primarily on shareholder capitalism, but from the announcement earlier this year, the members of the Business Roundtable are now committed to improving society, and meeting the needs of all stakeholders – including customers, employees, suppliers and communities. Businesses are now recognising that the ‘3 P’s’ – People, Planet and Profit, can all work together.
Retailers and brands that do not have a sustainability strategy in place will struggle to perform or even exist in the years to come. Raw materials derived from non-renewable resources such as polyester or nylon will soon find that prices will significantly increase due to shortages and changes in legislation on extracting oil. Brands that use virgin conventional cotton will have price increases and lack of supply due to soil degradation and climate change, as a result of years of toxic pesticide use and poor farming standards. Due to deforestation, increases in cellulose fibers such as viscose will have increased dramatically.
Customers will move on to your competitors who have established values and actions that meet theirs. People no longer trust brands who aren’t implementing actions that will improve their impact on the people or the planet. In a recent Futerra survey, 88 percent of consumers said they expect brands to help them lead more sustainable lives. If you want your business to survive, you must take action now.
Sustainability is not a goal but a journey. Taking the first step of uncovering and understanding the impact of your business from the ground up will not only identify potential risks, but also potential opportunities. Start by outlining clear, achievable goals and seek help if you do not have the experience. Making small changes now will add up over time, and help to ensure the future of your business.