Matthew Raimondi, Manager, Advisory Services, BSR

Photo credit: Jonathan Morris

Sustainable lifestyles must become the norm if we are going to continue to operate in world where economies are driven by consumption. To achieve this, companies should turn their attention to how their products and services can support sustainable consumer practices. Through BSR’s Sustainable Lifestyles Frontier Group, we are working with Carlsberg Breweries, Disney, eBay, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, McDonald’s, Walmart, and Waste Management to influence more sustainable consumer purchasing and waste and recycling behaviors.  

At a recent event in New York, we held a discussion with panelists from BSR, Carlsberg, Futerra, and Walmart on how companies are profiting from more sustainable offerings, and what it takes to drive behavior change.

Here is what we heard:

  1. Sustainable products and services must deliver value for the business, too. BSR’s business-case builder identifies six business value drivers that we have found across our member companies: regulation, risk, reputation, market, sales, and innovation. Companies should start by understanding what drives company strategy and the value a company is trying to create, and then develop ideas to drive that value through more sustainable products and services.
  2. Consumers should not have to decide between sustainability and affordability. While customers may say they care about sustainability, only a small portion of consumers seek out these attributes and very few consumers are willing to pay more for a sustainable product or service. Companies should integrate sustainable attributes without raising prices or by highlighting other attributes for which consumers are willing to pay more. In 2006, Walmart set a goal to sell 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs in a single year. To achieve this, the company used its buying power to negotiate lower prices, which it passed on to consumers, and communicated the longer life and cost savings from using the eco-friendly bulbs.
  3. Messaging should focus on value for the consumer. Companies should understand their target consumers and what they value, such as durability, brand image, price, or energy efficiency. Companies can translate sustainable attributes into qualities that matter to consumers and cater messaging that focuses on those qualities to influence consumer behaviors, rather than focusing on sustainable attributes. Disney’s Track my T application educates Disney’s target consumers, children, on how their organic T-shirts were made in a fun and interactive way. And Marks & Spencer’s Fuller for Longer product line helps consumers choose a healthier lifestyle through prepared versions of popular dishes that are nutritious and designed to help maintain fullness.
  4. Information does not translate into behavior change. There is a tendency for companies to say that education is the solution. However, our panelists noted that consumers are overwhelmed with information. Messaging needs to be simple and value driven. Brands and retailers influence purchasing behavior every day. This marketing know-how can be used to inform sustainability strategies and help consumers make more sustainable choices. 
  5. Habits are hard to change. Companies should consider how to enable more sustainable lifestyles without requiring a consumer to make a decision to do so. Designing products and packaging with recyclable materials and reducing packaging can enable more sustainable purchasing and recycling behaviors, while driving business value through decreased costs.