Sustainability must become the “new IT”

Posted by Isobel Drake on 7th May 2009

Retailers have been called to adopt sustainability programmes in the same way that they embraced IT ten years ago at the World Retail Congress in Barcelona this week.

In an opening presentation at the World Retail Congress this week, Guy Champniss, Director of Business Insights at Havas Media Intelligence, unveiled analysis from Havas Media’s proprietary framework, Sustainable Futures 09*. The research, featuring over 20,000 consumers in 10 countries, outlined the discerning relationship consumers have with retail brands and their sustainability profiles.

Sustainability and its contribution to brand value was discussed, with leading global retailers often at the top of the charts as chains like Tesco and Wal-Mart begin to embrace a more sustainable mantra.

But, while sustainable approaches were improving, perceived performance in environmental areas was weak as consumers demand far more from retailers.

“The boundaries of influence for retailers are clearly being challenged by consumers and the importance of genuinely transversal, interconnected approaches to sustainability is clear,” Mr Champniss explained. “Piecemeal approaches are not only less than efficient for businesses; they are less than ideal for consumers. So despite retail being at the front of the pack in terms of the 8 sectors we looked at, there is still a lot to do – and a lot of opportunity being wasted.”

“The retail sector already demonstrated its ability to respond when it embraced IT. The way IT was integrated within the sector is an excellent example of the benefits of introducing a horizontal function across the traditionally siloed work flows within businesses,” he noted.

“By focusing on the benefits IT could deliver, the retail industry gained new, more productive ways of doing business. Approached with a similar mindset, retailers can lead the sustainability process and reap the benefits. Frequency of purchase, price points and deep existing consumer loyalty, allows retailers to offer consumers the most accessible step-up to more sustainable consumption by quickly cementing behavioural change, and potentially locking in longer-term consumer loyalty.”

The Sustainable Futures research found the willingness of consumers to endorse and reward brands who adopt sustainable practices was on the up, with 80 per cent likely to reward such businesses. Almost half (48%) added that they would pay 10 per cent more for sustainable goods but many remained skeptical about companies – 64 per cent believe companies are simply using sustainability as a ‘marketing tool’.

“Taking a genuine, strategic and horizontal approach to understanding how each business area is best placed to deliver on sustainability – and understanding what the target consumer feels it should deliver – is the route to making sustainability good business,” Mr Champniss concluded.

The study was conducted by Havas Media during January 2009.