A penny sustained is a penny earned; what’s the price of responsible consumerism?

Source: BuildIt

By Sam Jenks

Tomatoes at the local grocery store cost 15 SEK for a package of six plum tomatoes. 15 SEK is equivalent to about 1.67 $ or 1.51 £. At the exact same store one plum tomato with organic/ecological markings costs roughly 10 SEK equivalent to about 1.11$ or 1 £.

Every single day, as individual consumers, we choose between economy and ecology. We ask ourselves; will buying products from ecological, fair trade and socially responsible brands make a bigger dent in our wallets or our ecological footprints?

Financial proficiency and stability (especially in regards to cost) in individualized consumerism will always be a restriction, and question of ecologically responsible consumer practices. On an individual level, sustainably, socially and environmentally conscious practices are pretty cut and dry. Especially when it comes to the consumption and purchasing of food products.

Example:

The average college student paid, at a 4 year public US university, roughly 19,000 US$ (2014/15’) for in-state tuition, according to College Board. Now, I’m no mathematician, but I was a college student. And I’m guessing after books and amenities, the average college student, in that particular grouping, isn’t too keen on shopping food with ecological markings.

Organic/ecologically marked food products cost more to purchase. Organic food supply is limited in demand; production costs are higher, handling/post-harvest parameters such as transportation and processing are more extensive and costly, and marketing/distribution relatively inefficient in comparison to more mass volume productions (fao.org 2016).

Living sustainably, when it comes to purchasing food, costs more.

So this begs question;

If the efforts towards reducing irresponsible consumerism and leading an environmentally conscientious life takes higher levels of action and economical output for an individual, then what are the consequences entailed in creating more sustainably, socially, and environmentally conscious business practices in the supply chain?

‘Might’ cost you more, ‘might’ make you more.

Ah yes, the age-old question; won’t sustainable business practices cost my company’s supply chain a small fortune?

Simply put, Nope, not really.

I know I just put a whole damper on the economics of being a responsible consumer, but the truth is, that very same consumer could very well be the majority party in today’s market.

According toThe Nielsen Company, 55% of online consumers in 60 surveyed countries polled that they would, in fact, be more willing to buy products or services from a company that is committed towards sustainability and social change(see figure below). Surely, to achieve a brand committed towards environmental development, your business would need to pay closer attention to the sustainability practiced in the buyer-supplier relationship. Higher levels of supplier regulation, including governance could cost your company time and resources towards improving supplier relationship management.

However, these very same SRM practices can avoid your company from making an appearance in the trash columns, which can cost equal amounts of time and resources. And, as stated in the statistic above, sustainably and socially aware brands are those favored by today’s individual consumer. Losing time and resources (to a CEO) is like saying to a child you’re allowed to go trick-or-treating, but then you have to wait a few days to eat your candy. Making your brand, business practices and supply chain- one, active and interested in making social change won’t happen over night, but it will eventually save your company money.

And, to quote my good pal Benjamin Franklin, “A penny saved, is a penny earned”

Make an effort, Big and Small

Sustainable business practices starts with effort, and making an effort means making changes of any significance. Change towards sustainability, no matter the scale, is positive change for the business world and world alike. This means all practices from the recycling of small metals to the building of new factories with green initiatives.

ING Bank for example built a new headquarters in Amsterdam, 12 times more energy efficient than the latter. The offices significantly reduced operating costs, breaths fresher air and is a more agreeable space at a cost no more than a traditional building of comparable size (sustainablescale.org 2003). That is sustained growth through sustainability; suggesting financial stability can be achieved while making your business practices more sustainable.

The implications of a large corporation such as ING Bank taking the sustainable and social initiative head-on created waves through the business world. This particular instance, of the new headquarters build, took place nearly 15 years ago. This certainly wasn’t the first instance of sustainable factory construction or business practices. But in the last 15 years plenty of huge companies have followed suit wit their own sustainable initiatives.

I don’t need to list them; chances are, you’re reading this article on a device made by one of the companies I have in mind.

Sustainability is connotative, not just denotative.

We need to remember, not just in our supply chain, but all aspects of our business that sustainability is extremely symbolic. It’s shadow casts long and far into our companies, and we mustn’t degrade the meaning of sustainable development by conceptualizing it or conceiving it holistically (Potter et al. 2012) At it’s core, sustainability has positive connotations, but it’s denotative meaning does not limit itself to green or environmental either.

Sustainable business practices affect, financial stability, board practices, stakeholder engagement, employee engagement, supply chain management, waste reduction, green house gas reduction, innovation, executive compensation, investor dialogue, biodiversity, human rights, production quality, stakeholder value, buildings and facilities, transportation, design, anti-corruption, worker health & safety, and you get the idea (Confino 2014).

Singularizing sustainability’s meaning and reach within business practices and affects on the supply chain is counterproductive. Valuing the meaning it holds for so many subsections of your business practices is the first step towards actualization of becoming a sustainable brand.

Sustainability is an ever changing entity, transforming lifestyles, affecting economics, taking time and resources to be evaluated, shifting our every-days to our now-a-days, and pushing the boundaries of language we use to communicate.

The existence and strive towards sustainability is the very basis for the question;

What is the price of responsible consumerism?

Until next week.