Retailers Embracing Sustainability as Demands Grow
The signals are mixed. Yes, consumers say, they care about sustainability and some say they will even pay more for green products. But when the shopping cart hits the floor, the reality is that only a small fraction of consumers actually DO spend more for green products. Even fewer are willing to accept tradeoffs in performance or quality.
The answer is not that simple, and that is why over 400 executives from leading retail, food and beverage companies are gathered in Seattle this week to talk sustainability at the Global Sustainability Summit.
American consumers may be ambivalent about “green” products, but they are clear about what they do want: More transparency, more organics, more local, high quality produce and more sustainable packaging. And they’re willing to punish brands that don’t reflect their values – as are employees, shareholders and NGOs.
The values that guide consumer purchase decisions vary by product category, according to a recent study by the Hartman Group. When it comes to meat, consumers believe that animals that live well provide healthier meat, so animal welfare is important. Chocolate lovers equate Fair Trade practices with companies that are passionate about ingredients. Cosmetic companies that use animals for testing prompt fears of chemicals. And consumers who buy household cleaners worry about products that may cause air or water pollution because they don’t want those same chemicals in their homes.
Retailers also know that sustainability initiatives pay off in lower operational costs. For example, research shows engaging suppliers with sustainability efforts can cut operational costs by as much as 46 percent, according to a 2012 Deloitte study.
So the next time you pick up that shopping cart, expect to see more evidence that retailers are, indeed, embracing sustainability. And check out the infographic below for a glimpse into how and why they’re doing it.
Sheila McLean (Senior Vice President and Director of the ECO Network) has extensive experience in public affairs, advocacy, CSR, media, corporate reputation, B2B/B2G marketing and issues and crisis management. She has worked on environmental initiatives throughout her career, from her days as a reporter covering the issues, to helping clients win legislative support for clean fuels, promote new green products, launch corporate CSR initiatives and navigate the complexities of influencer engagement. Sheila has been a trusted senior counselor to a number of Fortune 500 clients, associations and non-profits. Her work has repeatedly earned industry recognition, including from the Holmes Report, PRWeek, PRSA, PR News and IABC.