Lou Elliott-Cysewski, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Seattle, is co-founder and CEO of Coolperx, the world's first climate-neutral brand merchandising company. She's on a mission to transform the merchandising industry from a toxic environmental polluter to a conscientious connector of people and values. We asked Lou what leaders can do to boost their company's sustainability. Here's what she shared.
Over time, society has steadily increased our fixation on consumerism: buying more, wanting more, gifting more, wasting more. And while the urge to purchase and own more has grown across the decades, in recent years, a secondary urge has emerged. As we take closer note of the effect humans have on the environment (due in plenty part to consumerism), more of us are motivated to make a personal impact through our shopping decisions.
We've now reached a tipping point. The clock is ticking on environmental change, and consumers increasingly want sustainable products -- yet companies still fall short and often make false promises.
What do consumers want?
Evidence points to a sweeping trend of changing mindsets among consumers. It's no longer unique for consumers to care about the environment -- it's now the normal expectation. According to a study from IBM, purpose-driven consumers, who choose products and brands based on their values, now represent the largest segment of consumers across all product categories.
Companies have spent years asserting that consumers don't actually buy sustainable products, and therefore going sustainable is actually bad for business. But today, roughly half of consumers around the world reported paying an average of 59 percent more for products branded as sustainable or socially responsible, indicating that they are willing to support these causes with their wallets. Clearly, businesses claiming consumers don't buy sustainably are simply looking for reasons not to be sustainable.
Why aren't companies responding?
Despite the blatant demand for products and companies with transparent, well-defined sustainable practices, the vast majority of brands still focus on half-hearted attempts that are nothing but greenwashing. One example happens all the time in our industry.
We created our business to help companies walk away from the massive industry of cheap, useless corporate swag and opt for quality, usable, sustainably-made gifts that won't end up in a landfill within a few weeks. Many companies -- even those that claim they want to adjust their business practices -- do some research, try to find meaningful and sustainable gifts for employees and clients...and then still choose cheap, branded promotional products with overseas distributors. Why?
The biggest, most consistent reason a company continues to make harmful choices rather than genuinely improve business practices is profit. Choosing sustainable products, shipping with smaller carbon footprints, changing shipping packaging, swapping corporate gifts -- it all costs more upfront. For many companies, the cheaper bottom line is always better.
But with steadily increasing demand, sustainable companies are making profits despite higher upfront costs, because consumers are willing to spend a little more and become dedicated customers when they're getting products they love and feel good about. There's value in progress; it's time for businesses to step up to consumer interest.
What can leaders do to boost sustainability goals?
Here are three steps you can take today to show consumers that you're serious about sustainability:
1. Change your swag procurement programs
Swag is evidence of your brand values in the world. As such, a piece of junk with your logo speaks much louder than your climate pledge. However, a socially responsible item can increase goodwill amongst your team, showing them that you care not only about them but also about society and the planet. Clients come to us seeking a trusted supplier who provides proactive solutions to achieve their goals. We supply accurate and transparent information on the products they purchase, including an accredited life-cycle assessment and social-impact details. We help customers find swag that truly and accurately speaks for them.
2. Evaluate the vendors and clients you're aligned with
"You are the friends you keep" was an idea drilled into my brain as a child. As a manufacturer who produces an innovative and sustainable product, selling it through a distributor known as cheap and wasteful will taint your product with those qualities. Companies like Patagonia understand that the same is true for your clientele. As such, they refuse to sell their products to businesses that don't prioritize the planet, like major oil companies. Instead, all branding on their apparel must be approved by an internal team. By aligning with vendors and clients who share your values, you create an ecosystem within your supply chain that supports your company's mission.
3. Invest in your team and community
Another way to boost your environmental goals is by promoting alternative energy use for your employees, and therefore the community around them, wherever they are. Technically, the home-electricity use of your remote team is part of your company's emissions, as they are doing work on your behalf. Placing solar panels on your remote workers' roofs, for example, would be an incredible show of your values. Whether you provide low-interest loans or flat out pay for the solar power, you are making it possible for your company to be truly climate neutral.
It's time for companies to take drastic measures to reduce their impact on the planet and show consumers that they will deliver on their proposed environmental promises. Businesses must go beyond the bare minimum and align every level of operations with their goals of enacting meaningful, sustainable changes.