It is not a timing issue

“The market isn’t ready for my green product” is what I hear many business leaders say. “There is a timing issue here,” they say. My response is that if this is your experience, then you are focused on the wrong things and have not connected sustainability to your business in the right way. If the market is not ready for your “green” product, then focus somewhere else so you can utilize the power of sustainability to solve existing important problems you and/or your customers have.

I chose to make this the theme of this newsletter because I was giving a presentation a couple of weeks ago and here the comment came up again. The thing is, in my experience, it largely builds on misconceptions.


A solid misconception of sustainability in business

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, a common refrain among leaders is the market’s apparent unreadiness for green products. This sentiment, often echoed in boardrooms and strategy meetings, signals a misconception of how you best work with sustainability in your business. And what kind of results it can deliver.

Most of the time business leaders are constrained to an understanding that it can bring some branding value and – if the market is ready for it – some sales.

But let me tell you that there is so much more it can do for your business. It is very normal for companies that seriously engage in sustainability to experience lower cost and increased innovation, workers satisfaction, productivity, ability to attract talent and customer loyalty to mention some of the classic results. Read this article I wrote in October last year, if you would like more evidence of these claims backed by research on 30.000+ European SMEs and their experience on working with sustainability and circular economy:

Embedded in the misconception about the market not being ready also lies an understanding that “green” products come with a premium because there always is a trade-off between cost and sustainability. But it does NOT have to be that way if you change your mindset around what you set out to do. As I have just explained there are many ways sustainability can bring business value, so why should a new and more sustainable version of a product automatically become more expensive? Often, the answer is because we allow it to be. It is simply the common understanding that a sustainable product cost more. Thus, we expect it and accept that our brains stop innovating as soon as they find a solution that is doable but more expensive. Change your mindset and it will change the demands you put on the team that is developing the new “green” version of your product. In many instances, they will succeed even if the task at hand is to create it at a lower or equal total cost.

If these misconceptions also thrive in your company, then it is no wonder you think hard about the timing – about when the market is ready for your “green” product. And let’s face it – most markets are not ready to pay a premium for the “green” products to an interesting extent.


Solve meaningful problems

A very simple but incredibly effectful way to approach the whole agenda is to start by defining and writing down the top five problems you are facing in the business – not just in terms of sustainability but in general. And then do the same for the top five problems for your ideal customer.

These ten problems (or most likely less as some of them will be similar) are your list of problems to try to solve through your sustainability efforts. With this approach, every step will be highly valuable, and it will kill the timing problem. If none of your top five problems is fulfilling customer demands for more sustainable products, then you will not have it as a key focus and priority. On the contrary, this approach will make sure that you use sustainability as a toolbox to solve business problems in a way that is also good for the world.

You can of course make a strategic decision that you will try to mature the market to be interested in a more sustainable alternative and set out to create the demand. That is however a different subject and one that I will not cover in this article.

If your problems relate to cutting costs and attracting great people, don’t tune your sustainability effort to creating a new “greener” version of a product to sell. Focus on stopping wasting materials, energy, and water and optimize your production and warehousing flow to avoid products becoming too old before they get sold and thus have to be thrown out. Be sure to turn the efforts best suited for communicating your effort into a story to tell to current and potential employees. And work on your vision and mission statement to make them clear, simple and attractive to the future workforce. Buy the way – what is seen as attractive for potential employees could very well conceived as attractive by your customers as well.

So be clear on your problems and tune your sustainability effort to contribute to solving them. That will bring far more value and make the discussion about timing irrelevant.

Have you tied your sustainability efforts into the top five problems you are facing and likewise for the top five problems for your ideal clients?