Companies going green: Sustainability strategies that also make good business sense

Companies going green: Sustainability strategies that also make good business sense

plastic bags in singapore
Singapore uses about 2.5 billion plastic bags a year, which is equivalent to each person using about 452 plastic bags a year.

SINGAPORE: More companies in Singapore are climbing onto the green bandwagon with initiatives like reducing plastic bag use or doing away with packaging altogether, a move that marketing experts say makes good business sense as there is growing consumer support for such strategies.

Chief executive of media, creative and digital communications agency Dentsu Aegis Network Asia Pacific Nick Waters said that many people are becoming more environmentally aware, especially younger consumers who place an emphasis on a brand’s sustainability practices in their purchasing decisions.

“As a result, brands are increasingly putting focus on green efforts and we see service-based new economy clients having a stronger appetite to go green. This is usually because their business model allows them to be more agile,” he said.

Managing director for Singapore and Southeast Asia at public relations agency Golin, Tarun Deo, echoed this view on the attitudes off younger consumers.

“If done well, being green is a genuine opportunity to increase sales, especially with millennials, who arguably are more sensitive to most green issues,” he said.

Mr Deo said that many of Golin's clients are looking at the green space more vigorously than in the past. But he also said that “going green” can mean different things.

“Everyone interprets the sense of this in a different way. They think it is something that they need to do to ensure that their reputation is in keeping with the times," he said.

While he said it is a generally good thing, he questioned if companies are going far enough to drive change.

“Companies always come to us and say give me the one big idea, but this has to happen progressively. Longevity is a big factor. What you are doing today has to be long-term,” he said.

Mr Ken Hickson, who runs a sustainability consultancy and has been working in the green space for more than 10 years, said that environmental consciousness in Singapore is still a work in progress. However, he suggested that businesses need to do more than simply pay lip service to sustainable strategies.

“Some companies have definitely got on the green bandwagon, presumably to boost sales, but it’s not going to work unless you commit to taking real action that benefits the environment,” he said.

Lars Voedisch, managing director of PRecious Communications - which represents many international brands - said that while it does not hurt a company’s reputation if it is trying to do the right thing, there is less love for companies that have one-off eco-friendly initiatives in the name of corporate social responsibility.

“These companies get called out by consumers,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: Drinking straws protrude from a glass in a illustration picture in Loughborough
FILE PHOTO: Drinking straws protrude from a glass in a illustration picture in Loughborough, Britain April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

He added that consumers have patience for companies that show that they are on a journey towards sustainability. 

COMPANIES TAKE STEPS TO CARE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Asia-Pacific Breweries’ director of corporate affairs Mitchell Leow gave an insight into his company’s perspective on recycling glass bottles.

“To put in that system, it's going to cost us - for manpower, logistics. When bottles come back, we have to wash them. It's going to incur costs,” he said.

The motivation behind the company’s green efforts, which started more than 10 years ago, was “doing the right thing”, he said.

APB, which produces Tiger Beer, has waste treatment plants onsite to recycle water used in the brewing process and solar panels that reduce its carbon footprint by 20 per cent, and a returnable bottle system with an 86 per cent return rate.

Elsewhere, NTUC FairPrice, which has more than 200 outlets, launched a plastic bag management framework to reduce the use of plastic bags, while Starbucks earlier this month said that it will be banning straws in outlets worldwide by 2020.

At RedMart, eco-friendly products under the company's label are more affordable than those from better-known brands.

"We believe being environmentally friendly should not come at an extra cost,” said RedMart’s head of non-foods Emma Paterson. A check on its  website showed that itsForest Stewardship Council (FSC) -certified 3-ply toilet paper at S$5.20 was cheaper than other products that were similarly certified. For example, a product from another brand cost S$6.95, for the same quantity. FSC is not-for-profit organisation established to promote the responsible management of the world's forests.

REAPING THE BENEFITS OF GREEN BRANDING

Going green appears to have has reaped some benefits. At FairPrice, demand for environmentally-friendly kitchenware and picnic ware has increased by about 50 per cent over the past three years, while demand for environmentally-friendly household cleaning, personal care and baby care products has grown about 20 per cent, director of non-food products Mrs Mui-Kok Kah Wei said.

A huge array of goods and packaging we use in our everyday lives is made of plastic
A huge array of goods and packaging we use in our everyday lives is made of plastic AFP/JEAN-MICHEL ANDRE

RedMart reported similar growth.Its FSC-certified toilet paper sales, for example, have more than doubled in 2017 compared to 2016, Ms Paterson said. 

"We can see increasing awareness and demand for such products. Based on growing sales, we believe our customers are getting more environmentally conscious," she added.

Ms Jacqueline Singer, founder of Neis Haus, which specialises in eco-friendly products such as beeswax wraps and reusable straws, echoed the same views, describing growth since 2014 as “exponential”.

“Back in 2014, awareness was low compared to other countries like Australia and New Zealand. But since then, we've seen a huge growth in awareness, which has been helped by events like Earthfest, and some great social media groups locally,” she said.

She added that the interest is both from Singaporeans and expats, and cuts across ages.

However, the journey for retailers hoping to promote sustainability may be an uphill one. Mrs Mui-Kok acknowledged that there are some challenges in offering such products. 

“A key barrier to bringing in these products is relatively higher costs due to the lower demand and supply for these products.  Currently, eco-friendly products in the market are more expensive than mass, conventional brands,” she said. She added that it takes time for consumers to adopt environmentally-conscious efforts and choices.

Head of business strategy and development at the Singapore Environment Council Tay Sok Leng Said that when people bring sustainable practices to their offices and their homes and develop daily habits, market forces will eventually react.

BUYING BETTER NOT ONLY SOLUTION

Whether consumers consciously purchase goods that lower their environmental footprint, they can still contribute to sustainability, said Ms Pek Hailin from environmental group Zero Waste SG.

"Refusal is the easiest way to start without buying anything," she said.

For example, she said consumers could refuse straws and bags when they do not need them, and buy items without excessive packaging. 

Dining at places instead of doing takeaways can also be less wasteful, especially at locations that do not serve disposables, she added. 

When waste is generated, deciding whether it can be recycled first before discarding it into the general waste bin is also a good step to take, she said. 

“Reusing what we already have and items around us, thinking twice about whether one needs an item before buying will definitely help as well.” 

Source: CNA/ja(db)

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