BfG News Issue 15 - Expert View: Product roadmapping - driving sustainability

15 Sep 2008|Added Value

Alan-KnightEach month News invites an expert to give their view on a topical issue.  This month we approached Professor Alan Knight, Commissioner, Sustainable Development Commission to share his view on choice editing.

“If your product could talk, what would it say about its journey to the shelf? No doubt if the product spoke of environmental destruction and human rights violations, you would shuffle with discomfort.  Alternatively, if the story were one of environmental protection and better lives, you would be proud. All products, from ice cream to carpets, have a story to tell that starts from the natural environment: a mine, forest, field or sea. Products have an enormous and still largely untapped potential to help address pressing environmental and social challenges. 

In November last year, the Sustainable Development Commission published You Are What You Sell which outlines the opportunities for business and government in taking a products-focused approach and explains why products are becoming crucial to policy thinking around sustainability.

One such approach is what the SDC call ‘choice-editing’.  Every business already edits down the products they make and stock using criteria such as brand and price.  Choice-editing for sustainability is about eliminating the option to buy inferior quality products, or components with a poor social or environmental record.  The result provides consumers with a better choice of products and takes the hard work out of ‘green’ shopping.  Choice-editing happens through:

–  Manufacturers and service-providers deciding which products and services to offer, and with what  specification;  for example, McDonalds Restaurants committed to using only free-range eggs in 2004. The restaurant has since pledged to source only Rainforest Alliance certified coffee and organic milk.

–  Retailers when they decide what to put on their shelves; B&Q Timber Policy ensures that all their wood and paper products come either from proven well managed forests or recycled materials.

–  Governments through setting product standards.  UK legislation in 2005 ruled that all new gas boilers fitted in England and Wales must be high efficiency condensing boilers.  Boilers account for up to 60% of household CO2 emissions and condensing boilers could save householders up to £240 off their average yearly bill.

Businesses taking a products-approach to sustainability can anticipate the future and shape policy, as well as building brand value and minimising supply chain risks. I believe that in the future, product stories will be central to corporate responsibility.”

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