Why Designing Goods for the Global Market Can Give a Green Boost

Why Designing Goods for the Global Market Can Give a Green Boost

My job requires that I often travel for work. Almost every time I arrive in a new place, I am astonished not just by what I find different, but by what seems familiar. The architecture, billboards, stores and restaurants, often remind me of something I'd find in Detroit, San Francisco, New York, or another part of the U.S.

In many respects, the uniqueness of a place is found in its details -- a building might have a familiar structure, but the decorative trim makes it look ancient; a dish might be flavored with spices we'd find in our cupboard, but their combinations and proportions result in something completely new; billboards and magazines advertise recognizable brands, but the language and cadence of the tag lines make them feel local.

I bring this up not to reflect on travel, but to illustrate the idea that as the world becomes more globalized, goods and services translate increasingly well from place to place. This presents a significant opportunity for businesses, enabling them to readily enter new markets with products that are as global as they are local. This also affords businesses a new opportunity to streamline production, resulting in superior products that require fewer inputs and save on costs and the environment.

Ford is using this global platform to inform how it designs and builds some of its cars. Today, the Ford Fiesta, Focus and Fusion are about 80 percent the same everywhere in the world, while still meeting drivers' individual needs. The remaining 20 percent comes down to details that reflect the individuality of a place, culture and people. In Europe, for instance, cup holders are measured for 1.5-liter water bottles, and in China, they're designed to fit tea containers.

Until recently, it's been nearly impossible for companies to create a single product that uniformly offers consumers an added value across global markets. However, with environmental issues and recessions top of mind for all of us, a shared set of values has formed around the idea of sustainable products and development.

Worldwide, around 94 percent of consumers say they would more likely buy a product with an environmental benefit. But in each case, a majority of respondents also said they wouldn't be willing to pay a premium. This is where smart and efficient production -- the business proposition that underlies Ford's globalized platform approach -- can help provide the products and sustainability features consumers want while keeping costs down, benefiting both the buyer and manufacturer.

There are two key lessons here for businesses. First, few people are willing to pay more for a product just because it's more environmentally friendly. The second lesson is more uplifting and should serve as a challenge to all companies -- if your company can offer a product that is more environmentally friendly at no additional cost, the majority of buyers will choose your product over your competitor's. This holds true not just in the U.S. and not just for cars, but for just about any product sold anywhere.

Sustainability concerns (whether they are social, environmental, or economic) have become a common denominator across the global marketplace. If a company wants to compete on the global stage, it's no longer enough merely make good products. Companies must build scalable platforms that account for the common values and unique requirements of a converging marketplace. In turn, they will make stronger and more sustainable products, higher profits, and a better world.

Photo courtesy of Ford.