You have 30 seconds to explain how you’re going to save the planet. And… go!
Whoa. That’s a lot of pressure before your second cup of coffee. If you own or run a business, however, the answer is critical. Some very important people are asking: your present--and hopefully future—customers. Oh, and by the way… they’re in a hurry.
Do you have an answer? Do you have a plan?
Some of you do. Some of you don’t. Some of you have your own question: how does saving the planet have anything to do with selling a product, making payroll, and growing a business?
To answer that last question: more than you think. A business’s attitude and actions relating to the environment at large—as well as the community around them—is more important than ever to the consumers who are deciding where and with whom to spend their money.
Environmentalism-- the phenomenon of governments and populations changing behavior in response to adverse environmental conditions—has been around for centuries. The sustainability movement in this country, however, really began to take shape around 1970. That was the year that the landmark Clean Air Act was passed and the Environmental Protection Agency was created. March of 1970 also marked the first “Earth Day,” originating in San Francisco. As the decades went by, a notion once championed mostly by the counterculture movement began to make its way into the mainstream. This was evidenced in national ad campaigns with slogans like “Think Green”, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, and “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute”.
Almost 50 years have passed since the inaugural Earth Day and the birth of the EPA. And whether you consider yourself personally passionate about environmental issues or not, research shows that consumers prefer businesses which are perceived to be championing—or at least acknowledging the importance of—sustainability. Of all age groups, Nielsen Research shows that highly-desired Millennials—adults age 21-34—are particularly influenced by that quality. But it’s not just Millennials-- greater than 60% of all generations surveyed stated that sustainability was important to them:
It’s noteworthy that “sustainability” is a multi-faceted word. While it is usually associated with issues having to do with nature and the environment, it is also applicable to efforts that “sustain” communities—ie, supporting humanitarian causes both locally and abroad. Those causes could be anything from a local food pantry or scholarship program to an international organization like Doctors Without Borders. The work done by organizations like these helps build up people, who make up communities, who ultimately sustain society itself.
There are companies right here in Maine (and New England) who have grabbed hold of this cultural shift and embraced it, making charity and sustainability integral parts of their brands. Even if their product isn’t directly related to a particular environmental or social cause, they have recognized that the customers buying their products will respond positively to efforts that benefit people and/or the planet on which the people live:
- Hannaford Supermarkets goes to great lengths to offer locally-sourced products, obtain sustainability certifications, and reduce their stores’ carbon footprints. Their program “Hannaford Helps” focuses on charitable giving year-round.
- Bill Dodge Auto Group donates time, resources, and money to food banks, veterans' causes, the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, and other community-based charities.
- Dunkin’ Donuts Joy in Childhood Foundation raises millions of dollars each year for children battling illness or hunger in their stores’ communities.
- In 2008, Portland radio station WCLZ became the first carbon neutral radio station in the country. "Thinking green" has become an integral part of the station's personality.
A visible, tangible effort to either offer sustainable products or support sustainability in some way is not just a trend or a fad. Within two years, sales related to sustainable products and efforts could reach the $150 billion mark:
Whatever your product, whatever the size and scope of your business, there are ways to incorporate sustainability and "giving back" into what you do:
- Depending on what is applicable, consider reformulating your packaging or ingredients.
- Look at your supply chain and suppliers—can you buy from “greener” companies?
- Expand the products you offer to include green or sustainable items.
- Take some time to really evaluate the way your business impacts and interacts with its customers and communities and consider positive changes to your business model. What kind of commitment could you make toward environmental or charitable causes?
- Whether you are introducing new sustainability/charitable efforts or they are already ongoing, talk about them in your marketing.
Nielsen makes this final point: "No matter what, sustainability is no longer a niche play: your bottom-line and brand growth depend on it."
Back to the opening question: what are you doing to save the planet?
More than ever before, your customers expect you to have an answer. Because if you don’t, those same customers will seek out a competitor who does.