Looking at Sustainability through
the Customer’s Lens

As I walked into my typical grocery store on a pleasant Friday afternoon, I noticed something unusual. 

Several bottles of coconut oil were lined up on a shelf to my right. One set of bottles was labelled ‘Coconut Oil’ while the other was ‘Organic Coconut Oil’. What stood out was the cost of each. 

The organic version was priced at least 3 times more than the regular coconut oil. 

It shocked me, and I wondered why people would intentionally buy organic coconut oil for such high prices. Surprisingly, I noticed people around me consciously going for it. 

My Questions

Post this finding, I researched organic products and sustainable choices. 

A series of questions popped up: 

  • Instead of convincing customers to buy sustainable products, why are brands unable to find solutions for competitive pricing?
  • Why is sustainability the so-called ‘New Profit Industry’?
  • If sustainability is the way to go, why are we not having strict policies against unsustainable products?

The devil lies in the details. 

My Purchase

I purchased the ‘Organic Coconut Oil’ after five months of contemplation. Why?

Because I realised, organic coconut oil reduced my hair fall. The lower viscosity of the oil helped it easily spread over my scalp when applied, thus needing less consumption and making it last several weeks. 

After making another purchase and analysing my coconut oil usage, I figured ‘Organic Coconut Oil’ was a money saver! But was it truly sustainable?

My Findings

During my research, I found several articles highlighting the availability of raw materials, efforts invested, and expenses involved in creating sustainable products – as reasons for a higher price point. However, what these businesses fail to realise is that every business starts with the intent of solving a customer’s specific pain point. 

Every business invests several years and money into experimentation to create the desired product, even if that product is made of plastic. While influencing customers through multiple platforms into supporting sustainable brands is one approach to get more sales, this new profit business model in the long run is unsustainable.

My Perspective

It’s the writer’s responsibility to ensure the reader understands what’s communicated through their work. Likewise, every business should take up responsibility to help their customers understand the need to choose their product. 

Customers choosing sustainable products aren’t doing so as a favour to the business. Likewise, businesses aren’t manufacturing sustainable products as a favour to customers. 

Businesses shouldn’t make buyers feel guilty for not purchasing their products. Nor should sustainability be available only for those within a higher income bracket. 

Ultimately, three key factors – supply, demand and generating adequate profits – decide the fate of any business. 

If a brand wants to become truly sustainable, it has to fulfil a customer’s need for the product, especially the affordability of that product. 

Credits

Author

After having graduated from University of Arkansas with a Master of Science degree in Operations Management, Manasa Sai Sekar, gave up working in Fortune 500 companies to pursue her passion. She accidentally got into the environmental stream and is now working towards breaking unconscious biases in her own way. Being an Instagram influencer, and being on a journey to start her own sustainable fashion brand, Manasa strongly believes in being a doer. She advocates research, and solutions that are practical to implement. She aspires to do her PHD in environmental science. 

Edited by Ayesha Tari

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