It’s tough to build a case that making the planet a cleaner place is not in everyone’s best interest. But the question has always remained about whether the cost of implementing models that make products more sustainable was actually, well, sustainable for retailers. I came across an insightful article that ran a couple of years ago about the efforts of Lee Scott, former head of Walmart, in trying to implement sustainable practices as early as 2005.
Under Scott’s direction, Walmart struggled to figure out a cost structure that aligned with consumer expectations for lower prices at the store. Even according to Wikipedia, the company faced growing criticism during his tenure for its environmental footprint, among other things. The piece marks an important moment in time when it states, “The retailer and others who wish to develop such a market will likely continue to struggle with what counts as ‘sustainable enough’ for price-conscious customers. Until that question is answered, sustainable products are likely to remain ’luxury’ goods that fail to penetrate into the mainstream.”
What a difference 15 years make, as younger generations have risen seeking not only sustainable products and brands, but openly stating they are willing to pay more for them. Already in 2015, a Nielsen report found that 73 percent of the Millennial generation was willing to pay more for sustainable goods. Our own 2019 report, “The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail,” notes that 62 percent of Generation Z, who will begin entering the workforce this year, prefer to buy from sustainable brands, on par with our findings for Millennials.