When helping clients navigate building a business through the transition to a sustainable economy, I find myself often using the phrase “sustainable value proposition”. I’m not sure if I made this up, or if it was something I heard and unconsciously absorbed, but regardless, it’s been an effective mental model for me as I think about how to do “sustainable” business in a meaningful, authentic way, and I thought it was worth sharing.
So what is “sustainability value proposition”? The combination of words could lead to many interpretations, but I use it to describe how an organisation’s solution uniquely solves its customer’s problems related to sustainability.
For example, I would describe Patagonia’s sustainability value proposition (SVP) as providing long-lasting clothes that support climate activism. Many of Patagonia’s customers want to support climate activism and conservation efforts, and many look for clothes that will last a lifetime.
A key aspect of SVPs are that they help distinguish the brand from the norm, and tend to imply a somewhat opinionated stance on sustainability (for the business/product nerds out there, I could have also used the phrase unique sustainability selling points). Patagonia, for example, doesn’t put their carbon neutrality goals front and center as other clothing brands might, as they are less focused on selling you “carbon neutrality”. Organic Basics, a Danish clothing brand, focuses their messaging (and hopefully their efforts as well!) on the climate impact and ethical production process for the materials in their clothes.
A note of caution - there are absolutely best practices in this case - one shouldn’t try to find their unique angle at the risk of reducing the impact one can have. Every organisation should do everything they can to help fight the climate crisis and adapt their business to the coming sustainable future. That being said, it may be worth evaluating which aspects of your sustainability work are most important to your customers, and focusing your branding and messaging on these angles.
SVPs can also be a helpful mental model for focusing internal climate action efforts. There’s so much to be done, and it’s hard to know where to start. By thinking about what matters to your organisation and your customers, finding your core SVP can help create some structure and consistency behind your sustainability work. Just as each person has to find their unique way to engage with climate change, each business must do the same.
If you’re interested in focusing your organisation’s sustainability strategy, don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love talking about company sustainability plans!