Why Puma’s youngest-ever CEO says it’s up to business owners, not consumers, to drive sustainability
Monday, October 14, 2013/
Plenty of businesses have found a niche selling environmentally sustainable products to consumers who care about such things.
But sustainability should not be a niche, says leading sustainability advocate Jochen Zeitz. It shouldn’t even be consumer-driven.
Zeitz became CEO and chairman of sportswear company Puma in 1993 when he was just 30, making him the company’s youngest ever CEO.
During his tenure at Puma, its share price rose 4000% over 13 years as he revamped the company’s operations and packaging as part of a sustainability agenda.
He’s since stepped down from Puma to focus on The B Team, a sustainability advocacy group he co-founded with entrepreneur Richard Branson, as well as his role as a director at Kering, which designs and manufactures apparel and accessories for the world’s leading luxury and lifestyle brands.
On his first visit to Australia as part of the Australian Sustainability Conference, he told SmartCompany that businesses have more control over the level of sustainable production in society than they think.
“When you sell a product, you’re selling its function on one side, but also its appeal. And you control its appeal. Most products are commodities, so we buy things because we like them. Sustainability needs to be packaged and made sexy, so consumers actually switch over from traditional products.
“The design of a product, and hence its sustainability, play a very critical role. We need to turn sustainability into something that’s desirable for the consumer.”
Zeitz says small businesses, being “the large companies of the future”, have a responsibility and an opportunity to take sustainability head on.
“Big corporations have a lot of baggage,” he says. “Small businesses are able to quickly take on sustainability and make it desirable.”
Plenty of small businesses are already doing this. Zeitz nominates the local food movement, which tries to limit the amount of distance between food being grown and food being eaten, as one example.
“That movement, which is growing tremendously, is driven by small businesses, from farmers to restaurants to supermarkets.”
The easiest thing small businesses can do to boost their sustainable credentials is to take a close look at their efficiency from a resource point of view, Zeitz says.
This requires measurement. At Puma, Zeitz pioneered a system of measuring all resources used in the company’s products, making sustainability a quantifiable goal across the organisation.
“Metrics are important in business, not just from a financial, but also from a managerial point of view,” he says. “We need to make sustainability part of day-to-day business. And proper metrics to that are important.”
Metrics and efficiency won’t be enough. Ultimately, Zeitz says, we need innovation in how we manufacture and ship products. But knowing what’s going wrong is an important start.
Be honest about your situation: How vulnerability helps businesses thrive Sue Parker DARE Group founder
Own it: The 10 things you need to do to manage your personal brand Lisa Stephenson Who Am I Projects founder
Six invaluable lessons: What 20 years in aged care taught me about being an entrepreneur Natasha Chadwick NewDirection Care founder
An entrepreneurial superpower: Eight tips to help develop resilience Adala Bolto ZADI Training co-founder
Going through a lull? Five areas you should invest in when sales drop Tamara Alaveras and Sonia Majkic 3 Phase Marketing co-founders
Stop telling us how busy you are, it's boring and charmless Ian Whitworth Scene Change co-founder
Blandification™ and the state of modern branding Jeffrey Oley The Offices co-founder
Why you should find the right role for the right person — not the other way around Bruce Stronge Outfit founder