The 4 principles of sustainable innovation for modern brands


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Recently, the CEO of a French luxury skin care brand discussed with me the overall strategy behind his company’s outstanding sustainability performance. The challenge of sustainability, we agreed, is both structural and communication. Suppliers do not innovate fast enough, obtaining certifications has become a case-ticking exercise reserved for the few who can afford it, and contrary to popular belief, consumption patterns are not changing for the better . At least, not at the scale and pace needed to drive meaningful change.

As noted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in its latest report on sustainable consumption, current approaches to sustainability do not commercially match the growth goals of most retail companies, although Sustainability initiatives have proven to increase brand value. At the same time, until a brand’s sustainability efforts are advertised on social media, consumers are unsure of what to do to make sustainability logistically and commercially viable.

This is where the sustainability innovation challenge lies: the entire supply chain must operate in accordance with a brand’s social and environmental narratives. A brand cannot innovate if its suppliers, manufacturing partners, distributors and packaging partners are lagging behind. Moreover, no innovation will succeed if the people in charge of marketing have only a limited understanding of what is going on in the supply chain. CEOs have the power to innovate because their roles span the entire supply chain. But innovation is an engine of growth, not a project – and in today’s markets with environmental challenges, it is more urgent than ever.

Understanding the canons of sustainability innovation can help. These principles are generally consistent and focus on four areas:

1. Practice impact-oriented decision making

There is growing interest in circular economy models today among entrepreneurs and luxury executives, in large part because many fashion and beauty brands are looking to go beyond the conventional collection and collection program. conscious recycling and take advantage of business opportunities for rental, repair and recharge services. At the same time, their distribution is set up for one-time consumption, and while slowly declining in favor of circular models, the majority of their income still comes from their non-circular products. Effective prioritization in this context means first understanding the potential impact of each sustainability initiative under consideration. Two questions deserve to be asked at this stage:

  1. Can the impacts of this initiative be measured quantitatively and qualitatively?
  2. If so, what is the scalability potential of this initiative?

Effective prioritization also requires taking into account the level of difficulty of implementation. Persistence is important, but for the sake of efficiency, if a sustainability initiative cannot realistically be implemented in the next quarter, the best thing to do is move forward.

2. Evolve from traditional corporate-style transparency

Several CEOs and COOs of luxury fashion and beauty have told me that the biggest challenge they face is the lack of bandwidth to publish sustainability reports for clients, although their suppliers have social and environmental compliance reports at the top of their siled organizations. Obsolete organizational structures should not be emulated. They cannot meet the communication needs of a generation of consumers with the shortest attention span in history. Instead of aiming to publish corporate-style sustainability reports, making transparency a daily priority (like social media) will create better results. For example, it will initiate the customer feedback loop, an essential part of any innovation process. In summary, for sustainability reporting to be mutually beneficial, collecting, analyzing, and simplifying compliance reports into customer-centric content is the way to go.

3. Transform supplier relationships into strategic partnerships

The volatility of demand is pushing brands towards a more environmentally friendly and demand-driven sourcing model. In the context of ever-changing consumer sentiment, supply chain innovation will require brands to gain a deeper understanding of consumer trends and needs by leveraging analytics, segmenting assortments with smaller batches and using dual sourcing and nearshoring to create environmental efficiencies throughout the product development process. In reality, this can only be accomplished by establishing genuine collaborative relationships with suppliers. The objective is to create a relational dynamic of knowledge transfer with suppliers where innovation is always part of the equation.

4. Leverage social listening to create an improved customer experience

Customer experience (CX) and social listening are the buzzwords of the moment. Companies, from Selfridges to the HURR collective, are implementing experiential consumption by capturing the value of a frictionless and memorable customer experience. Meanwhile, social listening provides luxury retailers like Farfetch with a vast data set of often overlooked customer input, including personal experiences, views and perspectives on social justice and climate change.

By understanding the influence model of its sustainability message, a brand has the potential to have a positive impact beyond increasing revenue. Promoting better consumption patterns among customers and influencing lifestyle changes are some of these impact results. Customer-centric brands like Stella McCartney and Gabriela Hearst understand that in the age of social commerce, there are opportunities to add sustainability-based value at every customer touchpoint, online or in-store. . All of these touchpoints form a relationship that modern brands must nurture.

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