by Michael Sansolo
My wife recently bought me a new bicycling shirt because, quite frankly, I was wearing out all the old ones and wasn’t doing anything about replacing them. I thought she spent too much on the new item until the shirt itself educated me.
The information tag attached to the shirt clearly stated that it was printed on recycled paper and included a QR code that it promised would tell me more about the company’s sustainability efforts.
Intrigued by this, I clicked on the code and learned how the company is trying to be more sustainable by, in part, using recycled plastic as one of the components of the shirt. Thanks to my friends at Coca-Cola who through the years have given me assorted clothing items made in part from recycled plastic bottles, I knew that this approach actually works.
I don’t know how it works, but somehow recycled plastic bottles can be turned in clothing that feels silky, and nothing like you would expect plastic to feel.
But here’s the thing with my biking shirt: First off, I really like it because it does everything I want. It’s a bright color that makes me easier to see and features some reflective material to make me feel even safer. It fits great and even on a hot day, helps whisk away sweat to keep me a little more comfortable.
And knowing that it’s actually made more sustainably makes me happier and more likely to buy additional products from the company that made it, Aerotech Designs. The company educated me and in doing so made me a more loyal customer and more understanding of why the shirt cost a little more than I expected to pay.
At the end of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, Sean Connery's Dr. Henry Jones Sr. explains in one word what he learned from his adventures with his son (played, of course, by Harrison Ford): "Illumination."
That's as fine a goal as any for both retailers and suppliers.
We've gotten to the point where efforts to promote sustainability and renewable energy is meeting less resistance than it used to. The New York Times has had a series of articles of late on the subject, writing that "across the country, a profound shift is taking place that is nearly invisible to most Americans. The nation that burned coal, oil and gas for more than a century to become the richest economy on the planet, as well as historically the most polluting, is rapidly shifting away from fossil fuels." The impetus for the change, even in places that traditionally have had economies dependent on fossil fuel production, has been the bottom line - there is an enormous amount of money being invested in sustainability and renewables, both from private and public sources. Jobs are being created, tax bases are being expanded, and new kinds of prosperity are emerging.
As the story gets told - as people are educated in what is happening and why - resistance subsides. (Sometimes slowly. There's always politics to deal with.) And the movement persists, creating yet more opportunities.
That's the lesson. All of retailers' and suppliers' efforts to focus on sustainability will go unnoticed and unappreciated if they don't take the time to educate shoppers.
Shoppers ought to be informed how and why frozen food cases these days are so much better both environmentally and for food quality. Or how and why new overhead lights are so much brighter and more energy efficient. Or why the fish you sell is sustainably sourced and what that means for the future of fishing and why it matters.
There are countless positive stories to tell. But it is up to you to tell them. To your shoppers. To your associates. To your communities.
No doubt there will be some shoppers who might not care or may even ridicule these efforts. But there may also be shoppers like me who suddenly find a new reason to become loyal to a company and product because they believe in your efforts.
Illumination. Nothing like it.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com.
His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.
And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.
For information about hiring Michael to speak at your next meeting or conference, click here.