WinWinWin – Three Ways to Sustainable Growth
To change to a more sustainable circular system requires a partnership between the people who produce the goods and the people who consume them. Yet the consumer looks to the producers to take responsibility, and they are responding, but without consumers actively engaged in new solutions circular systems will not work. People need to accept that their behaviours, habits and experiences will also have to change if we are to succeed.
As we know, to be more sustainable we need to reduce our packaging and concentrate our products to reduce CO2 and cut down on materials. We need to replace unsustainable materials with recycled plastics, compostables and durable materials. We need to move from complex packaging to mono-materials (for example removing metals parts from handwash pumps that break recycling equipment). We also, critically, need to encourage much higher levels of recycling in the home, work and on the go.
These changes are sometimes seamless and invisible to the user. For example, when Coca-Cola introduced plant base PET, it looked the same as normal PET, so the consumer was none the wiser, much to the frustration of their marketing teams wanting to laud their green credentials. However, the challenge is that, more often than not, these sustainable solutions result in changes to the consumer’s modus operandi and often not in a beneficial way. Recycled materials can look less ‘pure’ or ‘pristine’ so are perceived to be less premium, of less value and even unhygienic. Some changes in materials, for example moving to recycled plastic, can result in cost increases which have to be passed on the consumer. On the other hand, lighter weight and compressed products can be perceived to be cheap. Any inconvenience or extra demands on the purse will clearly not find much traction with anyone except a minority of green evangelists, but it is the majority we need to bring on board.
The solution is to move on from fixing existing propositions. Thus, moving away from the ‘like for like’ comparisons, so changing the paradigm and encouraging behavioural change.
Nudge Theory talks about success coming from making the transformation frictionless or motivational. In the consumer good’s category plastic has already created a sophisticated frictionless and convenient world, so our options to improve in this first aspect are going to be very limited. We therefore need to focus on consumer benefit to motivate change. This is the core principle of our WinWinWin approach to sustainability design and innovation- we look for a consumer benefit first which aligns and supports a sustainable benefit. These two wins will add up to a business win in revenue, market share and kudos- a win for everyone.
So, where do we find motivational benefits in a high-volume, low-margin world?
Motivation needs to come from a new compelling aesthetic for environmentally sound products. I spent most of my career designing ways to encourage people to consume more and more, to lust after the sparkly and new. Designers now need to find a new aesthetic that will create desire for the sustainable instead. I was encouraged to see at a recent fashion trends talk run by Stylus that their three major design trends were all underpinned with sustainable ambitions. Thrift and craft, sustainable biotech and clothes for keeps are driving the latest styles; wooing conscious consumers in this fast-paced, highly competitive category. Environmental design aesthetics has value and benefit as it signposts a consumer’s belonging and place in increasingly conscious society.
New benefits can be unearthed when conventions are overturned. As consumers and manufacturers, we can become entrenched in accepted habits, often overlooking problems and opportunities because ’this is the way we have always done it’. The need to change to environmental behaviours can provide an invaluable opportunity to think again and develop new benefits. For example, Hourglass’s CuratorTMLash Instrument Mascara now has a specially designed stainless steel tip replacing the conventional and unsustainable brush, which improves usability and hygiene, looks more premium and is sustainable.
The third is how technology, particularly digital, is playing an increasing role in how we buy and consume products. Exclusive, customised and personalised products are now no longer the preserve of the rich. Technology has democratised these valued attributes, but it also allows manufacturers to reduce waste and energy usage as ‘just in time’ manufacturing thinking can be applied all the way to the consumer, reducing excess stock, and storage energy. For example, as Samsung’s Family Hub fridge knows what food you have in and their sell by dates, it can suggest thrifty delicious meals to save money and reduce food waste.
These are exciting opportunities to create more value whilst being environmentally responsible, but they are not going to happen overnight. The consumer goods industry has seen little fundamental change over the last 50 years with most innovation confined to new product variants. Now change is accelerating fast and coming from every direction. A new more visionary and progressive approach is needed to take full advantage and control of what’s coming. Clear direction is needed to avoid distractions and dead ends. Progressive launches are necessary to keep on-track with technology developments, but also to create expectation with consumer advocates – the equivalent of Apple iPhone, when every new model launch is a moment of anticipation and global theatre.
Our WinWinWin approach provides a Vision and Roadmap for the future that drives forward sustainable and social purpose, utilises technology, defines a new aesthetic and nudges the consumer to new beneficial behaviours for them, the planet and business.