Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sustainability and pricing


Companies are awakening to the crucial need to incorporate sustainability into their operations, yet this endeavor is not without its challenges. Achieving sustainability often entails hefty investments, such as product redesigns, equipment upgrades, and process overhauls. Naturally, these transformations come with a substantial financial burden. 

These financial costs present a perplexing dilemma for companies. They could opt to transfer the financial burden onto consumers, resulting in what is often termed a “green premium.” However, while some consumers may be willing to pay higher prices for sustainable products, there is a significant risk of alienating others. Companies face the possibility of losing their customer base as individuals seek out cheaper alternatives or choose not to make a purchase altogether. Consequently, businesses must tread carefully to find a strategy that allows them to recoup their investments while remaining competitive in the market. 

As a solution, businesses can explore unconventional pricing strategies to offset the elevated costs associated with sustainable products. This involves understanding and addressing the real needs of customers. Often, customers purchase a product not for the item itself but to fulfill a specific need, with the product serving as a gateway to that need. By focusing on these underlying needs, companies can offer solutions that are both attractive to customers and profitable to the company. A prime example is seen in the solar energy sector. While customers buy solar panels, what they truly need is the energy those panels provide. Instead of selling solar panels directly, companies can offer power purchase agreements (PPAs), allowing customers to access clean energy without the steep upfront costs of purchasing solar panels. By shifting the focus from selling products to providing solutions, this model makes sustainable energy more accessible and expands its market.

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Similarly, the concept of “product-as-a-service” has gained traction across various industries. For instance, rather than selling cars outright, ridesharing platforms like Uber offer transportation services. This not only reduces the environmental impact of individual car ownership but also spreads the costs of maintenance and disposal across multiple users. 

Another innovative approach involves leasing or renting products that consumers would typically buy, such as high-end fashion items. By renting out clothes, companies retain ownership and responsibility for product disposal, promoting circularity and minimizing waste. This model addresses the significant issue of overconsumption, allowing people to access services as needed without everyone owning products that are often underutilized. For example, in the case of vehicles, reducing the number of cars owned can help mitigate environmental impact and reduce congestion. Additionally, this approach enables companies to monitor and manage the disposal of items at the end of their life cycle, ensuring they are recycled or repurposed effectively, further promoting circularity and sustainability. 

At the end of the day, competitiveness and profitability are what keep a business going. While value-based pricing, which often involves a green premium for sustainable products, can be effective, companies must explore other strategies to ensure that sustainability efforts do not undermine their financial stability. This is where sustainability branding and marketing come into play, helping to communicate the genuine value and benefits of eco-friendly products. However, companies must navigate this carefully to avoid the pitfall of greenwashing, where sustainability claims are exaggerated or misleading. Authenticity and transparency are key to maintaining consumer trust and ensuring that sustainability initiatives contribute positively to both the planet and the company’s bottom line. 

As market demands continue to evolve, maintaining a long-term outlook is crucial for businesses. What is increasingly clear is that there is no inherent trade-off between sustainability and growth. Businesses must find ways to adapt, including developing pricing strategies that attract customers while remaining profitable. This involves balancing immediate financial considerations with long-term sustainability goals, ensuring that eco-friendly initiatives support both the environment and the company’s growth. By evolving their approaches and remaining flexible, businesses can thrive in a market that increasingly values sustainability. 


Dr. Edward Mungai
Dr. Edward Mungai
The writer, Dr. Edward Mungai, is a global sustainability expert. He is the Lead Consultant and Partner at Impact Africa Consulting Ltd (IACL), a leading sustainability and strategy advisory in Africa. He is also the Chief Editor at Africa Sustainability Matters. He can be contacted via

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