In less than 24 hours, a green shoot emerged from the white fleshy root ends of my leeks. Normally, these leek scraps go directly to the trash bin. But after deciding to put the root ends in a glass bottle half-filled with water, I now have a pretty sight next to the windowsill every time I wash the dishes.
There is something satisfying with regrowing your own food. If anything, it is the amazing idea that you can continuously get value even from stuff that is considered “waste”. Seeing value in a material at every stage of its life cycle is a tough challenge that businesses face. But one that promises big returns.
Consumer Choices Driving the Green Shift
The reluctance to make sustainability a core business strategy is rooted in the belief that costs often outweigh the benefits. But a wealth of evidence shows it’s the exact opposite. A 2018 study by Nielsen looked at sales data of the most common fast-moving consumer goods in the United States – coffee, chocolate, and bath products.
Here’s what they found:
Across all consumer groups, sales of sustainable products grew faster than the overall categories.
Among investors, there is a strong interest to drive sustainability forward. Bloomberg reports that the largest ESG (environmental, social, and governance) funds in the United States outperformed the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index in 2019. Seven of them beat their market benchmarks within the past five years.
Clearly, sustainability sells. And it is largely driven by the consumer’s growing desire to make ethical choices. Brands that can help people cut down plastic waste, lower carbon footprint, and improve social impact are most likely to unlock new consumer love and nurture loyalty.
This is the reason why many companies are showing their commitment to help heal the planet. Restaurateurs offer metal straws instead of plastic straws. Grocery owners reward shoppers who bring reusable bags. And a growing number of building managers source power from solar energy.
Sustainability as a Value Creator
Making the green transition, however, is not just for consumers and shareholders. Companies also seek to create value for all stakeholders of the business. In the past, company success is heavily hinged on how much money you made. Now, success is defined by the positive impact you made for your employees, your suppliers, your community and most importantly, the environment.
No one and nothing are left behind.
When business owners solve pressing social problems, they also create economic value.
Take waste for instance.
Imagine you are a successful restaurant owner. You are generating a huge revenue and tons of food waste daily. A significant chunk of your operating cost likely goes to raw material procurement and waste management.
But what if your food waste can be turned into something more valuable?
Instead of paying someone to take the waste to a landfill, a great alternative is to pay someone to take the waste at a lower cost in exchange for cheap, high-quality, organic veggies. In this model, your waste becomes compost that local farmers use to grow the produce you need. During harvest season, the produce goes back to you.
It’s a win-win!
It is a great story of how your brand closes the loop.
But more importantly, it is also a simple example of how your business, no matter the scale, can uplift more lives without hurting the planet.
Whether you are a small business owner or a corporate executive, you are in a unique position to influence positive change in the world. Creating value across your entire business system will entail sound leadership and an innovative mind. It’s not that easy. But once you see that sales go up while operational costs go down, it makes perfect sense to embrace sustainability for the long haul.