When sustainable practices give you a competitive edge

12 September 2019

When sustainable practices give you a competitive edge

In an article entitled 'Why industry is going green on the quiet', The Guardian recently reported that so-called 'secret sustainability' is on the rise and questioned why companies would want to keep green initiatives quiet in an age of increased consumer awareness and demand for sustainable products and processes.

A major theory proposed in the article is the idea that initiatives to improve resource efficiency for example, such as cutting energy and water use, give companies a competitive edge by reducing costs and increasing profits, and by publicising such ideas they could open themselves up to copycat behaviour from similar businesses. 

Another concern raised by the secretly sustainable companies is that consumers may associate ethical, sustainable or organic labels with lower quality, particularly in products like wine. By producing organically, a vineyard can improve the long-term quality of its soil, again, providing a competitive edge if kept quiet.

One final problem with publicising sustainable projects is potential cynicism from consumers - concerns about greenwashing, defined as 'conveying a false impression that a company or its products are more environmentally sound than they really are' [source].

On the other hand, consumers actively seek out companies that are making efforts to improve their processes in order to protect people and the planet via their supply chain and manufacturing. There are both pros and cons to publicising environmentally friendly practises.

Do you worry about greenwashing cynicism? Would you keep your resource efficiency adaptations a secret or would you want to share news of your developments? How would you determine the costs and benefits of this kind of publicity at your company?