Many corporations are identifying, measuring and reducing their operational impacts and making clear in-roads into reducing their energy, water and waste consumption. This is a major step forward in the fight to reducing environmental impacts; though the speeding of this knowledge through supply-chains is the next challenge.
However, the market leaders also need to start looking beyond operations and deep into all the attributes of their actual products. This is partly because it is recognised that sequentially dealing with each issue (carbon, water, waste, toxicity etc) is more costly and time-consuming; but also it is understood that only a holistic approach to redefining and redesigning products will lead to sustainable market advantage. This is where real traction will be gained, not only within sectors but the messages will be driven through customer choice too; thereby enlightening the passive majority.
Whilst some brands are launching products with lower carbon, water or packaging waste, there is a fear that whatever your category teams are working on will be trumped by a competitor’s latest announcement.
That is why a total product approach is advocated. This is a collaborative and whole team methodology which is as much about marketing, brand and NPD expertise as it is about the environmental measurement. Taking a whole product approach means a forensic methodology to understanding every attribute of the product and analysing how to reduce each impact to make it not only ‘best in class’ but to give it an unassailable market advantage.
The reasons for this are simple:
- Market forces are the dominant factor: whether you’re a retailer who has published stretching targets for reducing impacts or a manufacturer keen to maintain market presence, the need is clear to define a route-map to becoming a sustainable organisation.
- Whilst many larger corporations are well on the way to understanding and designing-out their impacts, there are still many hotspots that need urgent attention. However, these need to be viewed within the context of the whole portfolio including how products are designed, materials procured, manufactured, distributed, consumed and dealt with post-consumption.
- Viewing the products/ranges in the context of all the impacts is more likely to lead to true innovation as the interconnections and adjacencies of the factors above, become more apparent if you take a total approach. For example, what is the point in reducing the carbon by 20-30% in the current packaging if the product itself changes to such a degree that there needs to be a totally new packaging solution?
Sustainability as an innovative product development driver means that we will see more and more obsolescence of facets which are not truly related to the core proposition. This poses a threat to resource intensive materials and production methods – but an enormous opportunity to emerging materials and methods. It is critical therefore that products are broken down and then ‘re-visioned’ in order to create the best solution across every impact.
It is with this process the sustainability consultant can facilitate cross-team interaction utilising the extensive internal knowledge supplemented by external expertise in energy/carbon, waste, materials, toxicity and water for all FMCG products.