Is the Movement to Achieve Greater Societal Sustainability Reaching the Consumer? One Consumer Marketers’ Story…

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The story is being well told -– a growing number institutional shareowners and their global networks of asset managers steadily embrace ESG / sustainable investing approaches.  Corporations of all sizes are adopting sustainability strategies and churning out sustainability and responsibility reports to tell the story of their sustainability journey.

Many national, state and local governments are following through on their commitments made in Paris in 2015 (the Paris Accord on climate change). NGOs galore are focused on driving sustainability into all corners of human behavior.

What about the vast global consumer market?  What’s happening at the consumer level?  The House Beautiful magazine (part of the Hearst UK Fashion & Beauty Network) brings us news from the UK about one large company’s sustainability-focused marketing efforts.

The headline:  Why 2018 is the year sustainability went mainstream. The most-watched TV show of the year was the BBC series on sustainability.  And at least one major retailer has put “sustainability at the heart of everything we do,” says its senior sustainability manager.

The firm in focus is John Lewis & Partners (manufacturers and marketers of “homeware, fashion, furniture, electricals,” mens and womens wear). The employee-owned company offers its lines of products through a vast network of retail outlets. What is the company doing?

It has introduced a duvet (quilt bed cover) made of 100% recycled polyester from plastic bottles (120 bottles = one duvet).  The product is made in an “eco-factory” running on renewable energy. The company has its own factories as well as contract manufacturers.

The S’well Geode Rose drinking water bottle sales are up year-to-year (by 37%) says the company.  Glassware made from recycled glass is offered in the company’s John Lewis Croft Collection.  As alternatives to tin foil and plastic cling film for food storage the company offers brands “Stasher” and “Bees Wrap” -– silicone kitchen storage bags.

The company works with the Re-Use Network in marketing its new sofas; when a customer buys a new sofa in the “Thomas Snuggler” line, the company arranges for the old sofa to be re-used or re-cycled in collaboration with local charities that support disadvantaged communities.

All of this and more is in its annual 2018 Retail Report.  Shoppers became more conscious about what they buy and where the products come from, explains the company.  And, this was the year we took it upon ourselves to build a more sustainable future rather than leaving it to others.

The company (“partnership”) is the largest employee-owned company in the United Kingdom. “Partners” (83,000 permanent staff) own 50 John Lewis shops across the United Kingdom, plus Waitrose supermarkets, shops at Heathrow International, online and catalogue shops, production facilities, farms, and more.

Founder John Spedan Lewis created a “constitution” to define the business and how individual “partners” are expected to behave toward stakeholders. This reminds us of the foundational document of Johnson & Johnson (“the credo”) here in the USA.

The partnership model was and is “an experiment in industrial democracy,” showing that long-term success can come from “co-ownership” with shared power and collective responsibilities.  Societal challenges like climate change and social inequality guide company thinking.

As information: https://www.johnlewispartnership.co.uk/csr/governance.html

Its human rights report and related information is available at: https://www.johnlewispartnership.co.uk/csr/source-and-sell-with-integrity/tackling-modern-slavery.html

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