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When is sustainability expensive? Why is sustainability expensive? And is this actually true?

Eco-awareness amongst shoppers and businesses has been slowly bubbling away for years. In 2020, however, it reached boiling point. A recent survey of more than 3,000 people across 8 countries found that, in the wake of the pandemic, people are more concerned about addressing environmental challenges.* Sustainability aims are now ubiquitous; whether that be in the home, in the office, or on an even larger scale.

Everyone's thinking greener

Second hand market will double within the next five years.**

Two thirds of the UK population report they plan to stay local to support local businesses.**

70% of firms plan to introduce a net zero goal this year, if they haven't already.

These are staggering statistics. What's more is that 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainability.†† But why should they have to? Is sustainability really more expensive? Are new targets and practices threatening business' profits? Or is the 'luxury' perception of greener products an outdated myth?

What makes sustainability expensive?

Encouraging fewer sales

A lot of sustainability means encouraging shoppers to buy less. This is particularly prevalent in the fashion sector where awareness has grown around cheap clothing and it's impacts on the environment.

In an effort to counteract this, Levi's launched a #BuyBetterWearLonger campaign. The problem with campaigns like this, of course, is that you're actively telling your customers to shop with you less. Patagonia simply made clothes more expensive to make up for these losses,†† but for businesses who feel less like they are unable to factor this into their prices, this could present a real problem.

Complying with new sustainability standards

There have been new sustainability standards set by governments, consumers and businesses themselves. For small businesses, however, complying with these can be costly. Many small businesses sell to big corporations and feel compelled to act in the right without actually having the resources to do so. For these businesses, sustainability becomes expensive.

A study of 16 emerging countries estimated that compliance with standard cost about US$425,000 per firm due to an increased spending on labour and capital.^^

Additional investments in supply chain

Unfortunately, green malpractices have largely normalised under-payment for services, low quality materials, and corner-cutting. Subsequently, sustainability is often perceived as expensive by businesses because it relies on paying people fairly, investing in high-quality materials, and gaining relevant certifications that cost.^

But are these really the whole truth? Although increased eco-awareness may be exerting unfair pressures on small businesses, it has also meant that affordable, sustainable practices have become far more widespread. These days, there are plenty of ways sustainable practices can positively impact profits...

Making sustainability affordable

Recycling and repurposing

Awareness of recycling and repurposing is a simple, effective way for businesses to actually save money by being sustainable. A study in America found that a well-planned, well-executed recycling program can generate approximately $100 in savings per employee, per year.

Energy management

Being strategic about your business' energy usage can ultimately lead to cost savings and a greener company. According to the UK government, savings of 39% were achievable through energy efficient improvements across all non-domestic buildings in England and Wales - this figure is equivalent to £3.7 billion businesses could have saved on their energy bills.¶¶

DHL are helping their customers reduce fuel usage with a click & collect option at over 3,000 DHL ServicePoints. These are located in local convenience stores meaning many shoppers are just a walk away from collecting or returning; not to mention that DHL vans are doing one drop rather than lots. Mrs Ahu-ja, a DHL ServicePoint owner, comments that "100% people trust their local shop more. It's more convenient."

Improving brand reputation

As more shoppers flock to buy greener items, businesses that embrace sustainability will likely benefit. Currently, 71% of businesses believe that the most damaging form of online content is negative social media posts and negative comments about their brand.ª This means brand reputation is everything. 

Businesses could make sustainability affordable for themselves simply as a result of the new sales and growth opportunities it brings. One of our customers, The Best Ever Brownie Company, experienced huge growth during the pandemic - largely because of their organic, vegan and sustainable ethics. Solance Poole, their owner, told us that she believes "younger shoppers in particular are powered by choosing ethical products." For her, "It's nice that DHL are interested in sustainability too. We know they're doing their bit."

Whether you're a smaller business concerned about the cost of sustainability or a company founded on eco-practices, DHL are here to support you. Collection and returns via our DHL ServicePoints are cheaper and more sustainable; many shoppers can walk to their nearest collection point whilst ensuring fewer journeys for our delivery vans.


* https://www.bcg.com/en-gb/publications/2020/pandemic-is-heightening-environmental-awareness)
** https://ethicalhour.co.uk/consumer-sustainability-trends-2021/
† https://www.green-growth.org.uk/article/7-10-firms-plan-introduce-net-zero-goal-2021
†† https://www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/73-percent-of-millennials-are-willing-to-spend-more-money-on-this-1-type-of-product.html
†† www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/4-reasons-its-hard-to-become-a-sustainable-business
^ www.curiouslyconscious.com/2020/10/is-sustainability-too-expensive.html 
^^ www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/smes-need-financing-to-improve-their-sustainability-practices-here-s-how-we-can-help
¶ cleanriver.com/blog-why-recycling-important-for-business
¶¶ surple.co.uk/energy-efficient-benefits
ª https://pressreleases.responsesource.com/news/101317/of-uk-businesses-impacted-by-fake-reviews-and-negative-social/