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Expert View: Getting sustainable products to market is about people, not products.

Posted on Jun 7, 2016 5:40:00 PM

EasyGrow (Picture courtesy of Kingfisher)"The most important thing we have to do now, is translate that complexity into something personally meaningful."

How do you successfully deliver sustainable products in a competitive market? The answer is simple, you have to get to the people behind the products. In our latest guest post, Pierre Royer, Head of Sustainability at Castorama, Kingfisher’s home improvement company in France sees the success of the entire sustainable product journey being based on the people….

"I believe there are three types of people within business that determine the ultimate success of sustainable products.  A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine Ben – the mastermind behind our bedding plant innovation easyGrow - successfully rethought bedding plants at a systems level. The switch from the old system to the new easyGrow innovation started with a challenge ben received from the sustainability team to eliminate peat. Ben wouldn’t give up even when he was told it wasn’t possible: ‘What’s the point of working for a big retailer if we can’t use our scale to put positive pressure on markets?’ he questioned.  

Ben didn’t stop until he found out how to be peat-free in a mass production operation. Ben succeeded because he was curious and rather persistent.  He was able to join the dots that hadn’t been joined before and he had the tenacity to work against dominant markets forces, with deep roots in maintaining the status quo.

What easyGrow showed us is that to get sustainable products to the market you also need connectors – those people, like me, who understand complex macro sustainability issues, and can translate that into something meaningful to enable product innovation. Connectors position sustainability as:  a commercial necessity, a growth opportunity AND the right thing to do. They don’t just say:  ‘go make your range more sustainable’. They make sustainability relevant and accessible.

Castorama France store in Pau (Picture courtesy of Kingfisher)My role as a sustainability advisor is changing enormously.  We’ve stopped talking to customers and colleagues about sustainability as this enormous macro thing. The most important thing we have to do now, is translate that complexity into something personally meaningful.  We do that by bringing the outside in - explaining what that external environment means for how we operate, and explaining what that external environment means for our customers. We identify the biggest sustainability impact for a range, And focus in on that.

That takes a lot of work when you think our average store stocks 40,000 different products. So we’re creating tools to help with that. A standout that’s proved really useful that we created are our sustainable home product guidelines. They set out what sustainability means in our business.  We share them with all our buying teams because it helps make product sustainability meaningful to those colleagues who bring our products to market.  It provides concrete advice on what they can do to make their products and ranges more sustainable. 

And the third type of people you need in a business for sustainable product success are leaders. Whilst Ben needed persistence to successfully re-think easyGrow, those above him created the conditions for his sustainability innovation to flourish. You need leaders who see beyond the first year or the first iteration of a project because these types of innovations take time. You need people who can look holistically at the business beyond the net margin of a single product line and that takes courage.

So to Pierre Royer (Bio-Based World News)sum up what I think the key ingredients are for successfully getting sustainable products to market, I’d say it’s all about people; People throughout the business creating the environment for sustainable innovation to flourish. People who can bring the outside in and make the macro sustainable challenges personally meaningful and actionable, and People who are curious, committed and courageous."

About the Author: Pierre Royer (@proyer16 ) joined Castorama, Kingfisher’s home improvement company in France, in 2008.  As Head of Sustainability Pierre is responsible for developing and implementing the retailer’s sustainability strategy around offer (products & services), from driving delivery on eco certified timber to improving sustainability in the home improvement ranges and strengthening multi-channel communication to customers. Driving the circular economy agenda and providing sustainability expertise throughout the Kingfisher group.

Pierre Royer was a speaker at the recent Bio-Based Products and Bio-Based Chemicals showcase in Amsterdam.

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Pierre Royer