Home The Maturing of Sustainability Into a Cost of Doing Business
April 23, 2024

The Maturing of Sustainability Into a Cost of Doing Business

The benefit of following the housewares business as long as I have (34 years and counting) is the perspective I have when it comes to tracking a meaningful trend from its birth to maturity.

I recall the buzz in the mid-1990s about how the industry was ripe to take advantage of the recycling movement and other eco-friendly causes. I don’t recall hearing the term “sustainability” back then, but more on that later.

Products started cropping up across housewares, promising to contribute to the general consuming public’s growing interest in doing its part to save the planet. I recall one such product, a plastic kettle designed for disassembly to enable owners to properly sort its parts for proper recycling. Despite its authentic cradle-to-cradle environmental benefit, the success of the kettle was disadvantaged by a complex message that was virtually impossible to convey efficiently to a mass market that had yet to gain widespread internet access at the time.

There are many more examples of environmentally responsible products arising decades ago, such as trash bags formulated to biodegrade in landfills and pour-through water-filtering pitchers designed to keep non-biodegradable plastic bottles out of landfills (and oceans).

However, for many in this business who believe the “green” movement in housewares only came to life in the last decade or so under the “sustainability” name, what we’ve been experiencing in recent years is more likely the adolescence of the trend. Fueled by advanced societal concern, technology, process, media and regulation, the sustainability trend has been released into mainstream consciousness to the point where it comes across as a young and vital movement by newer consumer generations who weren’t even a twinkle in the eyes of marketers 30 years ago.

I recently read the use of “Sustainability 2.0” to suggest we’re onto a second, more advanced stage of eco-responsibility since the pandemic re-raised the profile and the stakes of environmental wellness. It’s more like “Sustainability 10.0.”

Regardless of its stage, it does appear businesses of all sorts have arrived at a new inflection point for the sustainability trend, well past the point of trying to secure a marketing distinction aimed at early adopters who can barely move the household penetration needle.

Survey after survey reports more consumers across all generations say they are more likely to purchase something that aligns with an environmental benefit as long as they can trace the authenticity of said benefit. Will they pay considerably more for such a benefit relative to the typical price point for a comparable product? Probably not, even though many consumers would like to believe they would pay extra when answering a survey. Even so, the sustainability value of products and companies that bring them to market today is much more than a tiebreaker in the mainstream consumer purchase consideration hierarchy.

It is telling during this week of Earth Day 2024 to see so many housewares suppliers and retailers championing sustainability initiatives across all facets of their business operations, not just products. That’s another sign of a trend growing up, like many trends before it, another year closer to maturity as a marketing essential — a requisite cost of doing business — instead of a marketing option.

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