Eco-consciousness is influencing more and more of our biggest decisions, from where we live to who we vote for to the companies we work at. Such is the influence of the green revolution that it is now a top factor in most shoppers’ purchasing journeys. Indeed, almost two in three (61%) Australians say the sustainability actions of a company have either a ‘moderate influence’ or ‘very much influence’ their decision to buy a product.
In our latest webinar, Why sustainability is good for business, Eloise Keating sat down with three expert panellists to discuss how their companies are leveraging sustainability for business success. Here are their key takeaways.
Bring your customers along for the sustainability journey
While some business ideas form out of a need to fill a gap in the market, others are designed as a solution to an existing problem. So it was for Hero Packaging, which co-founder and CEO Anaita Sarkar says began as a solution to her previous eCommerce business.
“I had just packaged up about 60 to 80 orders,” she remembers. “They were all wrapped in plastic satchels, with bubble wrap and lots of tape. When I looked at them, I knew that as soon as the customers received those packages, within seconds it would all be in the bin, which kind of horrified me.”
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
While it took nine months to turn the idea of a Hero Packaging into something tangible, sustainability was always at the heart of her business. But Sarkar says success wouldn’t have been as swift — nor as widespread — if not for the community asking the tough questions, which resulted in an organic evolution of the brand.
“When we launched, the conversations we were having were around, ‘Great, you’re selling compostable packaging. What colours do you have? And do I take it to the post office and write on it like a label?’ They were really simple, basic conversations. But four years later, we’re getting really sophisticated questions because people are more educated on sustainability. Our customers know what they’re talking about.”
Sarkar is quick to point out that the Hero Packaging team is still learning to this day. “10% of the time we actually don’t know the right answer, so we have to do our research, go through our supply chain and look at the transparency behind everything. The conversations have gone from ‘What colours do you have?’ to discussing end-of-life and the real difference between recycled and compostable.”
It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle
Beyond the value your customers can deliver, having a clear focus on sustainability can also attract the best people to your organisation, according to Nelly Phelan, head of marketing at ELK. Candidates now want to align their work with their own personal values in a more meaningful way, and Phelan says this will become even more important in the future.
“In addition to documenting everything the brand does through our annual transparency report, we have paid volunteer days,” she says. “So we work with TreeProject, giving our teams the chance to go on tree-planting days. That’s something that is really attractive to potential new staff, because it’s not just a job, it’s actually a lifestyle. It’s a set of values they can live by.”
Phelan says it’s vital that, from a macro perspective, those values come from within the business, as it allows everyone to be more human and more connected in the way they interact. It also means top talent will seek you out as an employer of choice and help strengthen your sustainability activities.
“Our Ethics Sustainability Manager has been amazing at finding so many different partners who can recycle all sorts of things. We are very lucky to have that resource within the team. It’s those little changes where small businesses can make a long-term impact.”
Sustainable businesses will avoid future penalties
While sustainability may be a core goal, at the end of the day every business wants to be profitable. One of the ways sustainability and profitability can feed off each other is by communicating the value to the purchaser, whether it’s a business client or a customer in your shop. Ryan Swenson, head of ESG & corporate affairs at Officeworks, even goes so far as to say brands will likely be penalised in future if they are not outwardly practising sustainability.
“We’re already starting to see that,” he says. “Rather than boycotting, the terminology is around ‘buycotting’ — that is, I’m shopping with brands that share my values. In a way, the consumers are punishing businesses for their failure to adopt sustainable practices.”
Swenson adds that transparency is another key factor. Whether it’s showcasing your eco-friendly packaging on social media or publishing your findings in compliance with the latest policies.
“There are mechanisms from a policy perspective that are already starting to come into play. The modern slavery legislation, for example, requires large operators in the private sector to disclose what actions they’re taking to remediate and identify instances of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
“There’s also taxes. If we look at what’s happening internationally, especially in Europe with its plastic tax and other policies, Australia is always three to five years behind them. So those are the sort of things businesses should expect to see coming down the track.”
Officeworks is Australia's leading retailer of office supplies, technology, furniture, education resources, art supplies and Print & Create. Officeworks offers more than 40,000 products on its website, catering to micro, small and medium business customers to help them start, run and grow their business. With everyday low prices on quality products and services, including tech-support by Geeks2U, you’ll find everything you need at Officeworks.