Sustainable Development

To help futureproof your business, keep these 4 steps in mind

Women are reflected as they look at a shop window in the commercial Ermou Street in central Athens May 30, 2014. Greek retail sales by volume fell 0.8 percent in March compared to the same month last year,statistics service ELSTAT said on Friday. The reading had risen at a revised annual pace of 0.9 percent in February, more than previously estimated. Hit by the country's deep recession and record unemployment, retail sales declined by about 40 percent in 2009-2013 as a result of austerity policies imposed under the terms of its international bailout. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis  (GREECE - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1EA5U1OZA02

Gen Z will adapt spending habits to benefit brands that reflect their sustainable lifestyles and values Image: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Jessica Barlow
Project support, Searious Business
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Future of Consumption

  • Generation Z's consumers are making more decisions based on the sustainable credentials of brands;
  • Research suggests younger generations are drawn to supporting brands with a social conscience and won't tolerate empty promises;
  • Brands who act on their commitments to the planet will be part of a green post-COVID recovery and attract customers and new recruits.

Today's consumers are drawn to brands with a social conscience, but sustainability is more than just a word in a tagline. Increasingly savvy consumers won’t accept surface-level commitments as signs of a sustainable brand. To future-proof your business, you must go beyond headline-grabbing announcements and win the trust of consumers who are so vital to your long-term prospects.

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Meeting future needs
Younger generations know how to harness the power of their wallets. They adapt their spending habits to benefit the brands that reflect their sustainable lifestyles and values. Research in the US suggests that Generation Z prefers to buy from brands it considers to be sustainable and is willing to pay 10% more to do so.

Generation Z is making more shopping decisions based on sustainable retail
Generation Z is making more shopping decisions based on sustainable retail Image: FirstInsight

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be profoundly felt by this generation as they contend with disruption to their education, reduced employment prospects and a global recession. This, too, will change how these consumers approach their purchases and brands looking to be sustainable long-term will need to think about how to build their trust in the wake of these events.

Business leaders are beginning to respond to the urgency of their customers’ requirements relating to sustainability. Since January 2020, there has been an unprecedented amount of sustainability pledges. Last year, net-zero carbon commitments came from Google, Microsoft, Unilever, Vodafone, L’Oreal, Ikea, Diageo, Coca-Cola and Ford, to name a few.

Smaller brands and start-ups, too, must follow these examples and share their story of how they are helping the planet. Companies that tell their sustainability story well - and live up to their commitments - are more likely to get like-minded people to back them.

Doing good isn’t just about providing for customers’ needs; it can also enable businesses to expand the net when it comes to recruitment. The under-30s represent the future of the workforce and they expect employers to play an active role in driving sustainability. The companies that respond to this call will attract the brightest and most engaged talent from this generation.

Younger generations are more concerned about sustainability post-COVID-19
Younger generations are more concerned about sustainability post-COVID-19 Image: GlobalWedIndex

Merging success and sustainability
The world will focus on a “green recovery” following the COVID-19 crisis and the biggest economic upheaval in history. The crisis has driven home the need for solutions that can keep businesses and economies resilient. Start future-proofing your business with four simple steps to doing good:

1. Know your values and reckon that with what your customer expects from your market and wants to see from your brand;

2. Measure the impact you want to make. Set a “Big Hairy Goal” for what you want to change and milestones to achieve on your way there;

3. Collaborate with entrepreneurs and supply chain partners. Make connections and ask questions of people tackling the same issues you are, suggests Willemijn Peeters, CEO of Searious Business, a company that helps brands make plastic use sustainable.

Once those connections are in place, establish with whom you can make the biggest difference and agree on specific targets with them.

Such collaboration is key to scaling sustainability, adds Peeters. "Having a collaborative approach has proven to be much more successful for influencing regulations and schemes, such as deposit return schemes. Cooperation always yields more and this is also reflected in companies’ bottom-line.”


4. Be transparent. Communicate openly about what you are doing and how those steps contribute towards the greater end goal. This will immediately show action and distinguish your brand from the rest, particularly those that point to others, such as the government or even their own customers, for the solution. Strong brands are actual game-changers – they’re out in front and already working on the change they want to see.

Truly sustainable companies consider both profits and the planet. Companies tackling issues like waste or fair pay while delivering top-notch goods or services will have the practices in place they'll need to survive for the long term. These companies have a shot at true systems change and an influence beyond their own bottom line.

Every business can make an impact. Make yours count.

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