TRENDING: Navigating consumption’s triple bottom line

By Louise Burgers, Retailing Africa Editor. Achieving sustainability goals is not just a morally correct strategy, but also a risk management plan to ensure business growth and consumer loyalty.

By Louise Burgers, Retailing Africa Editor. Achieving sustainability goals is not just a morally correct strategy, but also a risk management plan to ensure business growth and consumer loyalty. It means attaining equilibrium between commercial considerations without compromising our collective future to build a more balanced business landscape with buy-in from customers.

Balancing business build with consumer consumption to further the sustainability agenda to solve societal problems, was the challenge levelled at industry at a recent panel discussion moderated by yours truly on behalf of the Chief Marketing Officers Council. On the panel were senior marketers / sustainability managers from leading retail, property, hospitality and finance brands, along with corporate sustainability solutions providers and advocates.Understanding how the commercial drive for growth can coexist with the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was at the heart of the panel discussion organised by LevelUp at Innovation City, Cape Town, South Africa. LevelUp is a collaboration between retail consumer credit provider RCS and the TSIBA Ignition Academy and aims to empower and inspire small business development and innovation across a spectrum of industries.

Retail growth vs curbing consumption

So, how do you marry retail’s mandate for growth with the people cost and planet cost of increasing consumption? Solving this tension between growth and sustainability and the transformative potential of conscious retail growth, with advocating for responsible consumption patterns is the mandate of creating value in organisations with purpose.Increasingly, there is pressure on brands – particularly those doing business in emerging markets – to be cause-committed, truthful, authentic, community engaged, and morally and culturally aligned with how they can help the planet and society. As part of the CMO Council’s Doing Better By Doing Good program global survey of CMO Council members, senior marketers were asked what they considered the key benefit in making a stand as an ethical brand and evidencing corporate social responsibility in business. Findings indicate that most senior marketers believe the biggest gain will come from furthering customer relationships and brand affinity:

62%  – Customer preference/trust
28%  – Employee affinity/loyalty
6%  – Financial performance/gain
4%  – Investor confidence/support

To activate and action, a two-pronged approach to change is needed in supply and demand. What emerged is that ESG is not simply strategy, but part of day-to-day business to build a more sustainable society. How consumers change consumption habits is what is going to create meaningful and sustainable change – and this needs to be driven by business.

Power of partnership

Deven Moodley, executive head of Value Added Services, including Financial Services, at retailer, Pick n Pay, emphasised that organizations cannot go it alone and need to utilise the power of partnerships, the power of collaborations, reaching consumers and customers across all sectors. “It’s a combined effort. Marketing campaigns give voice to what we are doing, but we are in this together and we must solve it together.”

RCS executive of product and marketing, Glenda Eagar, suggested that it is incumbent on those who can make sustainable choices to act in a responsible way and to support initiatives that allow for the imparting of knowledge and education on conscious consumerism. “This imperative, for businesses, is less of a conversation to be had than an ethos to be engendered. Impact is about both social responsibility and environmental sustainability – it’s about taking the incremental steps needed to make sustainable living an immersive part of households.”

Support sustainable supply chains

The cost-of-living crisis and increasing food prices across the globe is causing hardship, particularly in developing nations such as South Africa. This means that retailers need to support sustainable production within current supply chains to ensure food stability for the future. Education is also a key component in convincing consumers to choose sustainable options when public perception is that they are more expensive.Among the panellists was Henry Mathys, Social Impact and Food Ecosystem head at the V&A Waterfront property in the City of Cape Town and the most visited destination on the African continent. He shared research which indicated that switching to more sustainable business models, far from reducing profit, could actually unlock economic opportunities worth at least $12 trillion, and translate into mass-scale job creation.

“The private sector needs to make the small changes today that will have a catalytic impact tomorrow. For example, as a tourism destination dominated by food outlets, the V&A has identified the need to boost sustainable sourcing in products, such as seafood and educate vendors on how to adopt that philosophy from the level of supply chains to what ends up on consumers’ plates, to what is again recycled or reused. Achieving sustainability goals has gone beyond the ‘right thing to do’ and has become a risk management strategy towards a better future for all,” said Mathys.

Basically, sustainability needs better PR among consumers, because brands, including leading retailers, have baked sustainability practices and social impact into their brand and marketing strategy. Doing better by doing good is a sound commercial strategy and now purpose marketing needs to go mainstream among the broader consumer population to encourage active choice in brands and products that do good.

Camille O’Sullivan, Founder of Tweak, a tech platform aimed at helping consumers take control of their environmental footprint and connect with climate change pioneers, argued that the dichotomy between sustainability and growth didn’t need to be a trade-off. The two objectives can in fact coexist if behaviour and buying choices are addressed and adjusted as a matter of social responsibility.


Louise Burgers is the Publisher & Editor of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She is also an Adjunct Lecturer in Marketing and Advertising Communications at the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business; and works with the global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council as Editorial Director. Specialising in local and Africa consumer trends, Louise is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger this decade.

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