In the world of B2C, consumers form bonds with brands
that deliver emotional benefits like security, smarts, and sex appeal.
In the world of B2B, there is a bond of trust between
buyer and seller, but the product itself is scrutinized under the harsh light
of performance. Is it better, faster, cheaper?
And more and more, is it greener?
How did sustainability make it to this top tier of B2B
purchase considerations? To understand that, we can begin by looking at the
profound shift to green in B2C.
Ignore Consumers at Your Peril
Today’s consumers have more power over brands than ever
before. Armed with new media and teamed with NGO’s, they’re forcing profound
changes in the supply chain.
Consider Greenpeace’s social media campaign against
unsustainably sourced palm oil in Kit Kat bars. The campaign featured a grisly
video that got more than 1.5 million views (even
after Nestle had it yanked from Youtube). The video sparked an avalanche of
rage, and led to a protest at Nestle’s AGM in April 2010.
Less than a month after the AGM, Nestle ruled that suppliers–including global
giant Cargill–could no longer provide palm oil from unsustainable sources.
What does this mean? The traditional B2B bias that
‘consumers aren’t sophisticated enough to understand or care about what we do’
is dangerously out of date.
Green = Green
Robert Safrata is CEO of Novex Delivery Solutions, a
courier company that boasts a fleet of electric, hybrid and natural gas
Safrata doesn’t believe greener can be separated from
faster, better, cheaper.
“Greener is cheaper. The really good companies are
figuring this out. And there’s lots of low-hanging fruit for them to pick.”
At Novex, the fruits of green are radically higher staff
retention, and contracts with clients who need green suppliers to meet their
Guy McAree of Ballard Power Systems agrees that
sustainability needs to be smart business first.
“We’re putting our zero-emission fuel cells to work, for instance, in systems used in forklift trucks. Walmart, Coke, BMW and other distribution center operators are deploying these clean energy systems because they outperform lead acid batteries…plus, battery storage space can be freed up.”
The green B2B mandate is here. And it’s spreading through
the entire supply chain.
Honda, for example, just announced purchasing guidelines
that ” … allow better tracking of emissions and other impacts of products further
back in their lifecycles, beyond primary suppliers.”
The guidelines will be implemented worldwide, and expand
from the environmental impacts of production to all corporate activities. So
whether you supply fan belts or stationery to the automaker, your operation
will come under the green microscope.
Where Do I Start?
Green is becoming as important as better, faster,
cheaper. But it needs to be implemented strategically to be profitable.
For that reason, green can’t come without a business
value proposition–for yourself, and for your clients. It needs to be
considered a strategic issue, and be planned for your company with an eye on
profit and competitive advantage.
It also needs to prove itself quickly, in order to be taken
seriously. That means your strategic plan needs to outline both low-hanging
fruit, as well as rewards down the road. This ‘outside the jar’ brainstorm
might be the place to bring in fresh thinkers from outside your sector.
Finally, be prepared to fail. But make sure you fail
forward. Green is new for business, and there is a great deal of
experimentation going on. The good news is, your buyers are finding their way,
much like you are. They can appreciate that progress won’t be smooth.
Next: The greening of B2B employees
This article is the first in a three part series
exploring B2B sustainability issues, culminating in a webinar Tuesday, February
8, 1pm EST (10am PST). To add the webinar to your Outlook calendar, click here.