By Radha Ghai
Every few years, the world of business embraces a new buzzword. And the latest buzz kid in town is ‘sustainable’. From furniture to the future, every new product and service wants to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. But can sustainable truly sustain on mere hype?
But what is sustainable?
Sustainability can mean different things to different people. But at the heart of it is a commitment to use resources, which are often limited, in a mindful manner.
Let’s face the facts. Being sustainable isn’t just about being eco friendly. It’s business friendly, too. There is a great demand for sustainable brands across all categories of consumption. Brands that are early adopters of this change have an advantage, as the ‘sustainable’ tag today is what the ISO 9000 fad was in the 90s. But sustainability isn’t an overnight makeover. Being a sustainable brand often involves a fundamental rethink about some or all the ways of doing a business. This change requires a deep commitment to change. It requires investment of time, money and patience, as it’s far easier to be tempted to keep doing things the old way.
Who’s being sustainable now?
Needless to say, the pandemic has hastened the spread of the sustainability mindset. Consumers and businesses have had a chance to pause and rethink the ecological costs of ceaseless production and consumption. And sustainability has already found a few unlikely champions.
Whether it’s encouraging paperless communication, eliminating food waste to energy conversation, the hospitality industry is paving the way for sustainability in the service sector. From toiletries to fragrances, using organic materials wherever possible means a more sustainable footprint. And with clients preferring a carbon neutral tourism experience, it becomes paramount for hotels and associated services to offer ‘sustainable’ on the menu.
b. Real estate
Sustainability starts at home. Real Estate developers are increasingly creating more green spaces, using eco friendly materials, reducing construction emissions and maximising the use of solar energy. Taking these steps is already creating a wave of ‘green’ properties, which gives homeowners a sense of pleasure without guilt.
Sustainability is a definite trend when it comes to furniture and home decoration. More and more brands are building with durable products that, besides lasting longer, are easy to recycle or up-cycle while using less plastics and more natural materials. This often means sourcing them locally and refusing to use toxic paints and ingredients.
Perhaps nowhere is the drive for sustainability more crucial than in the packaging industry. With a growing war cry for eliminating plastics, and using more eco friendly materials, we are already seeing slow but sure changes. Some brands are even eliminating the need for packaging or minimising it to bare minimum, using recycled or recyclable and biodegradable materials.
e. Apparel design
The fashion industry is often criticized for encouraging trends and production techniques that are anything but sustainable. Thankfully, many high street and upstart brands are recognising that this needs to change. This means using organic materials, encouraging recycled clothing, applying fair trade practices and not feeding into constantly changing fashion trends.
While sustainability is a theme that’s being subscribed to globally, the Indian market presents its own challenges for making sustainable a profitable venture. While environmental concern isn’t yet a national priority, there is a growing demand for goods and services that pass the sustainability filter. But making those sustainable solutions can still be expensive. And the perception of “if it’s not plastic, it’s not durable”, doesn’t help. Adding to the challenge is our large population and rapid economic growth that is far greater than the rate of sustainability outreach.
A collective responsibility
While brands must do more to make sustainability a core business value, customers must also take onus for taking care of the environment by insisting on sustainable solutions. Because when the demand arrives, businesses will be even more pro-active to become environmentally sensitive.
The author is senior partner and creative director, Alok Nanda & Company