Redesigning for the circular economy means connecting more closely with your customers

Sustainability has become a more poignant topic in 2019 as a growing number of consumers voice concerns about the negative environmental impact derived from our continued dependence on the world around us. In fact, according to a recent Nielsen report, 48 percent of consumers in the United States claim they would modify their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

While this environment certainly has created new challenges for business leaders, it also presents a valuable opportunity for them to engage directly with consumers to build stronger trust than ever before, by ensuring they play an integral role in an organization’s sustainability efforts along the way.   

According to the annual 2019 Trends Report released by Fjord — Accenture Interactive’s design and innovation unit — today’s consumers want to be active participants in a company’s efforts to address climate change and pollution. In fact, consumers demand purpose-driven organizations that are building sustainability into their products, services and nearly every facet of their supply chain.

In addressing this cultural shift and demand for sustainable enterprises, today’s leading companies should focus on making the consumer journey more circular, rather than solely relying on legacy business models to drive the organization forward. Truly sustainable organizations are those that invite consumers to join each step of the redesign and innovation process. 

American grocery chain Trader Joe’s is just one recent example of a company that has demonstrated its commitment to keeping consumer demands top of mind when it comes to growth and innovation. Stemming from a petition that received more than 90,000 signatures from concerned consumers, the grocery chain recently announced its new goal to eliminate more than 1 trillion pounds of plastic across its stores nationwide.

Trust is key for sustainable enterprises

Allowing consumers to personally take steps toward sustainability as part of their brand experience is a powerful strategy for building loyalty and trust, and it can be achieved only by choosing to collaborate with and scale these circular strategies alongside the customers expecting these changes.  

Organizations must hold themselves accountable for not only taking consumers along this journey but also helping them navigate the complex discussion surrounding sustainability today. Being transparent about an organization’s impact on the environment by sharing stories about traceability, sourcing and the like can go a long way. Educating consumers with this knowledge can help companies scale their redesigned processes more effectively, while also allowing consumers to be more engaged and confident in speaking about sustainable topics that matter.

When it comes to transparency, Unilever is a strong example of how companies can benefit from collaborating with consumers around their own efforts. Sustainable brands at Unilever experience 30 percent faster growth and currently contribute to 70 percent of the company’s growth, further showcasing the tangible business benefits of sustainable enterprises. 

Collaboration drives progress

Organizations also must be nimble — innovating for the circular economy and scaling new business processes at a faster pace than ever before. To address the sense of urgency created by heightened consumer demands and the amplification of these topics across the media, companies also must join forces with others to move the needle forward.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for example, recently organized a pledge in which 250 companies including PepsiCo, H&M and others committed to increasing recycling efforts with governments to reduce the flow of plastic into our oceans. Launched in 2017 at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Make Fashion Circular is another such initiative, bringing fashion leaders together to collaborate on creating a new textile economy that increases the use of safe and renewable materials.

To stay ahead, companies must fully understand the power of collaboration when it comes to innovating and scaling sustainable practices, especially as new legislation creates additional pressures and consumers continue to hold organizations to a higher level of accountability.

Leading a sustainable enterprise in today’s economy is more than being mindful of business outputs, maximizing resources and reducing waste — it’s about aligning the customer experience with the circular economy, authentically engaging with customers and incorporating sustainable practices into every facet of the business. As consumption and trust are redefined by environmentally focused consumers, organizations will have to continuously react to and shift their own strategies to account for the growing number of companies joining the fight and driving their businesses forward.