According to a new study by Deloitte Consulting for the Grocery Manufacturers' Association, sustainability is not a passing nod to the current wave of environmentalism that's coursing through consumers' hearts and wallets.
More than appeasing consumers, marketers and retailers are looking for ways to reduce costs and assure availability of key commodities. "What we heard as part of the research was that 'consumer needs' was not yet the primary driver of sustainability initiatives for consumer product companies, although this is starting to change," says Peter Capozucca, a principal with Deloitte Consulting and co-author of the study.
The words "sustainable" and "footprint" are in the news a lot these days. There's more talk about carbon footprints than there are real footprints behind the yellow tape in an entire season of "CSI: Miami." Deloitte defines sustainability as "the continual improvement of business operations to ensure long-term resource availability through environmental, socially sensitive and transparent performance as it relates to consumers, business partners and the community."
In short: Stop raping the Rain Forest.
While Wal-Mart often is credited with driving the sustainability movement in American business, 60% of the companies surveyed by Deloitte said they are primarily driven by "internal priorities." These include cost reduction, regulatory risk mitigation and concerns over potential commodity shortages. Wal-Mart's packaging initiative and regulatory compliance were cited as the second-most important reasons for sustainability.
Wal-Mart has been pressuring marketers to reduce energy usage, minimize packaging and adopt other environmentally sound initiatives. But the Deloitte/GMA study found marketers are ahead of most retailers in implementing sustainability programs.
The study also found sustainability efforts are more successful when companies define the issue as a top strategic priority and take a structured, methodical approach. Capozucca cited Unilever U.S. and Procter & Gamble for their current efforts toward introducing concentrated laundry detergents, which preserve water and minimize packaging material.
"It all comes down to the fact that the environmental realities we are experiencing have become everyone's issue," says Capozucca.