8 Dec 2021 “Sustainability” is the marketing world’s new darling, having shifted exponentially from a “nice to have” or a competitive edge to a necessity in recent years and bringing to the forefront that consumers are more likely to become brand loyal when businesses practice ethically and transparently. But what does it mean to be green? And how can your business generate a profit while reducing environmental harm? We’ve put together four top tips for designing an environmentally and socially responsible brand or product, but first, we need to unpack what exactly sustainability means to a business. It’s important to note that there are two tiers to sustainability in business; sustainable fashion or products and sustainable business practices: Sustainable Fashion and Products Sustainability in Fashion Design is all about taking it slow and steady! “Slow Fashion”, first coined by author, design activist, and professor Kate Fletcher, is a concept that considers the scarcity of global resources. Ethical fashion designers produce one-of-a-kind, personalised garments or accessories through slower manufacturing schedules, small-batch collections, and zero waste designs, in direct contrast to the mass-produced, unethical practices of “Fast Fashion”. Similarly, sustainable products acknowledge the impact of mass production and take into account their carbon footprint. Environmentally friendly products utilise responsible materials and are manufactured in an ethical way. In addition, having an efficient life cycle and causing minimal environmental damage or harm are also core factors that make a product sustainable. Sustainable Business Practices When businesses practice sustainably, they prioritise reducing their impact on the environment while still making a profit. They do this by swapping out damaging manufacturing materials for less harmful materials when creating products, by choosing eco-friendly or green vendors and suppliers or awarding production contracts to businesses that have eco-friendly or green business practices themselves. Companies, big or small, who practice sustainably win over customer loyalty by caring about the environment through deliberate, ethical design, locally produced products and transparent supply chain processes and labour conditions. Now that you know what sustainable design and business practices entail, take a look at our four top tips on creating a business built around sustainability: 1. You cannot rely on sustainability alone to sell a product. Jasper Eales, Co-founder of Sealand Gear, a company that specialises in creating upcycled bags and apparel, explained that an entrepreneur cannot rely on sustainability alone when building a successful brand. “Create something that serves a purpose”, he explains. “A product has to be functional and it has to look beautiful, that is the base. Sustainability should be a vital part of the brand’s DNA, but it is not the selling point.” 2. Change your perception of waste. It’s vital that businesses look at the world around them through a different lens in order to change their perception of waste. When waste products are reframed as a medium or a material, it opens up endless opportunities to create. Davis Ndungu, Founder of Recycled Flip Flop Sculptures, is a great example of this. Davis started out his career as an artist using wood as a medium. However, when wood became too expensive, he had to seek out low-cost alternative materials. He started gathering old discarded flip flops, turning them into beautiful animal sculptures. “In times of crisis there are always opportunities,” explains Davis. “Follow your gut and create something that you believe in. Keep the end user in mind, but don’t create something just because you think it will sell.” 3. Keep in line with your core values. Don’t change your business’s identity to keep up with sustainability. Ethical practices should be woven into the tapestry of a business’s founding principles, acting as a cornerstone to guide their ongoing behaviour. For example, Jasper credits the success of Sealand Gear to the fact that they remained true to their original brand values, which were developed five years earlier. According to him, a successful brand needs to have a strong story to tell. He recommends that businesses have a thorough understanding of their business identity and core values and not lose sight of who they are and what defines them. 4. Use your brand for good. “A powerful brand has a voice and an opportunity to reach a large audience. Tell your story, make it an informative one that educates people along the way,” recommends Jasper. According to him, it is essential to build an aspirational brand and use it as a platform to educate people on being environmentally responsible. Alexis Grosskopf, Co-founder of OceanHub Africa, a platform for ocean-conscious entrepreneurs, notes that, because sustainable business practices have become expected as standard, there are no longer grants to assist start-ups based purely on these principles. However, he claims that making these principles core to a brand’s purpose and operations adds value to its overall story and identity, which will help to draw in private investors. In conclusion The path to success has been laid, and sustainability is the way forward. Consumers have become increasingly aware of their impact on the planet and have shifted their lifestyles and purchasing behaviour to reduce their impact. It is then clear to see that businesses need to shift not only to retain those consumers but also to lead by example and play their part in the move towards green.