Commercialising sustainability for business and the planet

It’s openly recognised that environmental destruction is going to be devastating for 100s of millions of people globally and it's already showing its effects. Awareness of the moral implications of sustainability issues for current and future generations has increased dramatically, owing to the types of campaigning that’s occurred. However the commercial opportunity of this has yet to be realised by business

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has, for some companies, been viewed through the lens of doing the bare minimum to keep regulators and campaigners away from their doors. With public confidence in business sustainability at an all-time low, it’s essential that action on sustainability is authentic and effective. This will avoid erosion of consumer trust in a brand and also establish a secure foothold in this rapidly expanding market.

Societal change through personal consumption habits could, in theory, provide the solutions we need to achieve sustainability. There is the option to voluntarily decrease personal emissions by refusing to fly, adopting a plant-based diet, dramatically reducing consumption of any products that are not seen as sustainable and ditching the car. Unfortunately, adopting these behaviours is unlikely to happen on the timescale that we need and, crucially, without any viable alternatives for people to switch to.

A culture shift is necessary for part of the change needed; but more sustainable products, technologies and innovative, sustainable ways of doing things are needed for the things the population is unwilling or unable to change as individuals.

Those businesses that can find solutions to problems will be able to commercialise this. There is money to be made from solving the world's environmental and social problems and investor capital is already being mobilised in recognition of this. As environmental issues continue to worsen, with pressure mounting from both government and consumers, all businesses will have to evolve in the face of this transition or face becoming displaced or obsolete.

Like any major trend in business that creates disruption this presents a massive opportunity. The transition to a circular economy is a growing a multi-trillion-pound emerging market that’s accessible to companies of all sizes, that use the right approach.

This is where companies with the right foresight and business model can see huge profitability and, most importantly, these early movers and adopters can establish a brand and reputation in the market.

Examples of early disruptors have already developed in the food industry with plant-based milks and 'fake meats' exploding the market. These are unashamedly coming after the established meat and dairy industries, with some going so far as to market their carbon footprint on their packaging using slogans directly calling out the food industry. In future years, this story will undoubtedly be repeated across all sectors in some shape or form.

The picture becomes more compelling for business when we look at the values, expectations and spending habits of emerging consumers. We often hear stories about how businesses are planning to engage future customers and the younger generations, but with 94% of Gen Z (those currently under the age of 23) actively expecting companies to solve social and environmental issues, aligning company values and focussing on a purpose is a secure foundation for creating a loyal customer base. The case for profitability has also emerged with 72% willing to spend more on products and services produced in a sustainable way and half boycotting a brand that has behaved against their values.

Fundamentally this is a huge issue relying on a number of things, but there are massive opportunities to be had in this transition for those able to develop solutions and alternatives, enabling us to live more sustainably.

In the end, sustainability will have to be embraced by all businesses but acting early could be the difference between a business succeeding or not in our increasingly transparent and connected world. Behave in a way that your customers and employees can get behind and become part of the solution, not the problem before someone else gets there first.