Want to be a leader in sustainability? Start focusing on your product or service.

You’re in business because your product or service delivers what your customers need. A sustainable product strategy gives your customers the opportunity to reduce their impact through the purchase and use of sustainable products. That said, making the transition away from traditional products takes patience, perseverance and organizational buy-in.

Perhaps your organization’s corporate sustainability evolution began with reporting and tracking metrics such as safety incidents or environmental violations. From there, you saw opportunities to drive operational efficiency and cut costs through initiatives such as reducing fuel consumption by switching to electric or hybrid vehicles. A sustainable product strategy is a logical next step in the organizational evolution of corporate sustainability programs and has the potential to provide a huge upside.

ImageThis year’s recipient, Yvon Chouinard, models the Inamori principles through his leadership in corporate social responsibility at Patagonia.  As an avid rock climber and outdoorsman, Chouinard has transformed his personal passion for nature and protecting the planet into a successful enterprise with high ethical standards.  By challenging the norms of traditional textile production and the garment industry, he initiated the creation of the organic cotton industry and the development of a new retail consumption mindset.  Chouinard represents how business people can push boundaries and go beyond expectations for social good.  As the quoted “pioneer in corporate social responsibility,” Chouinard serves as an inspiration for business leaders and consumers.

In Chouinard’s acceptance speech, he spoke about Patagonia’s evolution over the years and how the company became what it is today by doing what is right, not what is easy.  He discussed the moment that led him to what ultimately became the organic cotton movement. It was in the early 1990’s and Patagonia was getting ready to open the Boston store when employees began to complain of headaches. Chouinard hired an inspector to identify the source of the problem. The inspector said the headaches were caused by the recycling of air in the building. Instead of saying, “Ok, fix the circulation,” Chouinard asked the more difficult question, “What is circulating that is causing the headaches?” That was when he learned of all the harmful chemicals that are used in the garment industry such as formaldehyde.  From that moment on Chouinard pushed to find an alternative fiber that did not use toxic additives. This included visiting cotton farmers in the central valley of California, financing their transition to organic farming and testing new dyes. As Patagonia blazed the trail for the creation of the organic cotton industry, it continued to take a stand for what is right for this generation and many to come.

Choinard ended the speech by asking attendees to make sustainability a part of our daily lives because real change cannot just come from a few corporations. He said, “We [Americans] are addicted to consuming.  If we can change ourselves, corporations will change and the government will follow.”  As citizens and as consumers, we have the power to move business and government along a path towards a sustainable future by changing our behavior. We can buy less and reuse more. While taking that on may seem overwhelming, every little step is progress.

To view full blog please visit http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/10/02/why-product-strategy-key-innovation-and-new-markets

By Sara Kennedy and Marissa Beechuk