Should we remove sustainability from business logic thinking?

It’s been a week since I stopped working as research associate in the field of System Sciences and Sustainable Business Models at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Looking back on reading many scientific papers on sustainability sciences, system sciences, sustainable ecologics, ecologogical and basic needs paradigms, it got me thinking whether we should remove notions towards sustainability from primary (business logic) thinking. It’s harsh of me to write so, but it also comes with different realities that are harsh too.

I want to write about it, not because I am against sustainability, but because I believe that what it “envisions” little holds true to the different realities we face today. Let me start with “selling sustainability”. Sustainability cannot be sold; carbon friendliness cannot be sold. It is something that can happen, because of how something primary has been produced and is then sold; A bamboo straw, as example, regrows rapidly. This makes it renewable and suitable as an ecological product; if it is consumed in regards to its regrowth time. However, for such bamboo straw business to be invested into it needs a use-case; for example “drinking something with a straw” because of reason(s) X and Y. It will not be invested into because its’ sustainable by design.

Another example is “selling human right compliance”. It is not something that is sold either, it is a result of something that is sold because it is wanted. For example, the chocolate brand Toney Chocolonely is commonly known as a chocolate producing brand with the intend to produce slave-free chocolate. That is what it is known and likely also bought for. What it is really bought for is the taste of its chocolate offering. The Chocolate Market size was valued at USD 124.03 Billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 165.17 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 3.6% from 2020 to 2027. So while Toney Chocolonely certainly brought into varience in product offering, the demand exist(ed) and continues to do. No demand for chocolate = no demand for Toney Chocoloney = no demand for “human right compliance”.

Now this can go on; selling “deforestation free”. You cannot sell deforestation free, but you sell a product as a company. It means you have to look at where you source what type of material how often, how you sell it to what type of customer and how investments return into reliable revenue streams. These aren’t bad. They are important. Being deforestation free can be a part of it, but when you talk to customers, you see the discussions will be more about styles, material features etc. Similiar notions can be found in selling “circularity”. It tends to be nothing that is sold as primary business logic, but it’s part of a service offering. For example the ability of certain Games in the Gaming Industry to be repaired, but you don’t buy games because they are circular but because of their fun, excitment and other factors.

It intruiques me to write more about it, but I decide to stop here. Why do I write about it? I care about sustainability and I am enthusiastic about business and the role of investement; what makes you invest into something. And certainly it can be sustainable, but you also want returns, and often that is the return of the consumer; I don’t want to live in a sustainable house because, but if solar pannels help me reduce the cost of my living than it is something I, as consumer am interested in. And if I can repair my coffee mashine in the next years without feeling annoyed about having to buy a new one again and again, then that’s something I am interested in. But what I really buy is the coffee mashine, the joy of it, the smell, the 5 minute peace in the morning.

Hope you enjoyed this post! I would love to hear from you, your thoughts on sustainability, business models and investements. Drop a message in the comments, also if you want me to closer look at (your) business logic or service offering.

Ann

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Marketing for sustainability?

Sustainability should aim at enabling but also providing invdividuals and groups of individuals a lifestyle of their choosing, without causing damage to the environment such as the ecological ecosystem, people with who the environment is shared with and individuals themselves. To enable that, marketing for sustainabiltiy should educate consumers about products and lifestyles so that consumers are enabled to make concious purchasing and lifestyle choices. A good example is the sales of cigaret packages that often include marketing for the negative aspects of smoking such as its risk of cancer. Another good example is the use of health education as part of marketing, i.e. using an uber or other forms of car sharing as a means to circumvent drunk driving if other forms of public transportation aren’t available, helping thereby to avoid incidences from drunk driving. While there is a clear health benefit there are also business and environmental benefits that come from shared mobility.

In these forms of marketing, there is no sugarcoating. It is honest. This differs to growing strategies in marketing for sustainability, which can tend to market “sustainability” such as sustainable lifestyles and products, although the intention often still remains the sales of a product or service. Hereby sustainability becomes an ideal that is sold as part of a marketing strategy. The risk is that marketing for sustainability can continue to facilitate consumption or more specific growth behavior, while in sustainability, growth or the sales of a product or lifestyle (see push marketing) can work contradictive.

This can be seen in products with a renewable resource base; if the extraction and processing contradicts the resources’ needed regrowth time. However, these products might not be kept longer, because they were pushed onto the consumer and possibly not intrinsically needed. This might differ to other forms of marketing such as in pull marketing for sustainability, where consumers make more concious choices in terms of a purchase so that the product or service chosen is kept longer by aliging more with what the consumer needs and wants. Of course this might not be exclusive and there can be overlaps.

How does marketing for sustainabiltiy work these days?

Before marketing was sustainable, marketing sold certain imaginary that likely were not sustainable, think about the topless muscleman, infront of a BBQ of brand x with his guy friends and the woman in the background taking care of the children. Now in marketing for sustainability we may no longer see the muscle guy, but the well dressed husband or a lesbian couple, with a vegan steak in front of the now a newer and more efficient BBQ of brand x. One may now buy not only that lifestyle, so close to a sustainability ideal, but most of all one buys a new BBQ. Marketing did it again. It sold.

Because it is marketed as sustainable, does not mean it is (in the long-term). Source

What is more likely marketing for sustainability?

Marketing for sustainability should be as simple as that it is honest and deviate from selling sustainability ideals sourrounding the product or by idealizing the product for being sustainable. It is nearly as knowing a partner who one choses to marry or a partnership one engages with for an investment, because one knows them. For example, a tourist agency could sell a sustainble sailing turn across the atlantic ocean with vegan food, FSC certified timber and a romantic ride into the sun. However, it also has to sell the reality that being the risk of sea sickness, the storms on the sea, the team-work needed, 24 hours readiness and most of all the lack of romantization such trip might bring along. If it does so, it will find that consumers sustain the sail turn, but will also return as consumers again because marketing was honest, and the reality sold matched what was expected. Honesty hereby makes marketing sustainable – the product being sustainable tourism- long term profitable.

Curious about the many ideals sold here? Klick here.

For physical products that could look as much like “here is the product we are selling, but it also falls short on long-term battery life. We are being actually honest that you can’t expect this from this product, but we are looking into developing a new model that enables you to keep the product and be able to easily replace the battery so that you don’t depend on new product purchases. This will also be part of a new business service offering, so that you don’t have to deal with long returns and actually safe money over time, with benefits for us to save on production resources too. The product is actually useful for these purposes…. and we don’t recommend if … because you likely won’t end up using it. If you still want to try it out, we can rent it out too as part of our new service offering. ”

It could also be as simple as selling a lack of ideals or filling a niche or problem: Here you can use the GPS tracker for your pet in the city so that your pet can go outdoors, you don’t get mad during home office, while you don’t have to worry, whether it gets locked up in a garage without finding it. This type of marketing might even work better then selling such GPS in idealized sustainable scenarios with a wild tracker pet father or couple, conquering wild river beds and sustainable forests with their pets, because most people work during the week, so selling a product what it is for in the context, make it sustain and the consumers too. It may even increase the reach including sales, while improving coustomer loyalty.

Of course selling purely sustainable values is great too, particular if it does not prohibit behaviors by purchasing products and lifestyles that are for instance socially and ecologically friendly prodcued such as re-use bottles or bags bags as a means to avoid the use of continues plastics. But to sell to sell and then use sustainability as a selling point.. hmm hmm.

More thoughts ? Message me anytime.

References

Koelen, M. A., & Van den Ban, A. W. (2004). Health education and health promotion. Wageningen Academic Publishers.

Training courses on the unconciousness mind, ideals and fantasy.

The secondhandmarket a linear extension model?

Within the current sustainability agenda, particular the circular economy, reuse is the greatest approach to extend the life-cycle of a product. It builds onto the concept of recycability, because recycability means that again more energy is needed to dissect product parts into their components, to transform then into new materials and lastly, to use them for new products. Instead, products that can be reused, can be reused. Or can’t they?

What does reuse mean?

When I think about reuse, I think about my dishes. When I clean them, I can use them forever. Particular the very old ones, that are resistent to any scratches or any other severe exposures such as when a toddler is throwing it down the ground. The same principle should apply to all goods such as the ability to wear a shoe, a jacket or anything forever or at least for as long as possible. That is to be able to “reuse ” them.

What role does the Secondhandmarket play in reuse?

Often, many products are bought because of several reasons. That could be to stick to trends, because someone is bored, because someone wants a change, someone just needs it for a specific occassion or someone just feels like it wihtout a particular reason. The consequence is that these products aren’t worn often and because of that many goods are often just discarded, sometimes donated, or do not enter re-selling schemes. That is where the 2ndhand market comes in. A place, where you can re-sell your unused, little used or more often used items that are still in great shape.

How does the seconhand market promote reuse?

Since I also purchase and sell on secondhandmarkets, in which consumers engage with consumers (C2C), I feel they are a great way to buy and selll for a longer product life, to save and make money as well as to save resources for new production and consumption. But as much as I like the concept, I realize that secondhandmarkets have many short commings and so it appears that many of my clothing that I had acquired on secondhandmarkets end up as donations and some clothing also in my garbage – an extension of the linear consumption and production system.

Why do clothing not circle longer in secondhandmarkets?

1. Inauthentic marketing of secondhandgoods

Often I buy clothing from the same brand, but it appears that the designs change over seasons so that clothing such as long sweaters suddenly appear shorter, lets say a long-shirt that does not fully cover my belly. I cannot wear that in winter. Because other people know or experience that too, they don’t resell it authentically always, but become very smart in taking inauthentic pictures that make it appear as if such short long sweater fits nearly anyone up to the point of telling me that it is long. Because there is little incentive to re-buy it, it ends up being donated. [This also applies to colours].

“Does this shirt cover the belly?” “Yes.” “I received the shirt and it feels like an extension of my bra.” #Item deleted, seller no longer responding.

2. One size doesn’t fit all.

Many brands are outsourcing production to other countries and that is okay! What is not okay, is that the size and quality of the models seem to differ depending on what country they are produced in. So it happens that I can be happy with a brands jeans model in size 38, and when I repurchase the same model, a size 38 is too large and the material differs. The same applies to shoes and when I purchase products from different brands. Its confusing.

“Hey, is this model X from brand Y?” “Yes!” “Great, because I really want the size to fit this time.” (…) ” Hey I received it and it’s too large.” “Did you check where yours was produced? ” “In country x” “That makes sense, because mine was produced in country z.” “It makes no sense, but I understand. Thanks.”

3. Some product components are broken

This winter I have been going through 3 secondhand jackets. There is nearly always a little problem that I am not aware of, when I buy it such as a broken inside pocket or a broken zipper. Because I am not the only one who dislikes it, I cannot resell the jackets, unless someone does not bother a broken zipper or inside pocket. Most people do. Therefore, jacket goes to landfill since also people or businesses who depend on donations do not want to wear a jacket with a broken zipper or pockets.

“My appointment went really great, because my zipper broke, so I would just sit there with my jacket on, sweating, waiting to go home to climb out of that jacket, to then toss it and try again with another jacket.”

4. The Quality often sucks

Now that I managed to buy and find a good that is not broken and has been authentically sold to me, I realize that I can wear the item for a season and than also nobody else wants to buy it. That is becuase some product parts widen, they get very loose when I wash them, some jeans are torn where they are mostly used, some parts are a little dirty (i.e. my pink jacket form sitting), or the polyster furr of my boots simply looks aweful after two months of use in the winter. Because I don’t like it, other people don’t like it either, and the jacket or shoe goes to a donation or landfill. For my shoes this made me very sad, because the overall quality is great, but the polyster fur quality too bad.

4. The effort rarely pays

It is in my joyfull evening whatsapp conversations with my girlfriends that we sometimes talk about our Saturdays’ work on a secondhandplatform, how exhausted we are since we have to do the marketing, talk to our customers, be rejected by our potential customers, deliver products, wait for payments and than verify that the product delivered is received well and if not how to deal with complains (this is were authentic sales really is important to avoid any complains to happen!). And that all that is exhausting, sometimes it doesn’t even work and we still end up with many products at home, ready to be donated (if). For some of course it works : )

“You know if I would give myself an hourly rate, it would probably 2 Euros but its still worth it, because I simply have too much and the product value is still good. And it is better then tossing it.. Still, I am so exhausted.

5.The competition is intense

There are millions of products online and to resell a shirt or anything, you really have to stick out, be constantly present, take the best photographs. In addition, there are so many products. That makes it is difficult to resell, even at a higher price because the same or similiar products, of which there are sometimes thousands from sell at a lower price. This makes the resell market saturated and therefore at least supports me again in donating or tossing my clothes.

Many brands, many options

6. So much more

Brand image, response time, picture quality, different body sizes, communication, pricing….

How can clothing cycle longer in secondhand market?

After two years of 2ndhand “war” I came to conclude that the best type of textiles to resell and fit into the Circular Economy Framework for “reuse” are those that speak up for durability and repairability. These may be clothing or products for which product parts can be repaired and once repaired can re-enter the re-sales system. I had done so with many shoes (by as much as possible) or asked a shoe dealer to fix some parts and that made me resell them again very well. But for product parts in which the buying price was already low , lets say 20 Euros, there was little incentives for me to fix them for another 20-30 Euros and because of that, I decided to discard them. Regardless the product, material quality plaid and continues to play an important role. And of course there is authentic sales.

A systemic perspective on plastic production and consumption

Every day tonnes of plastic are being used, produced and exposed. We all know that this system is called a linear system, with catastrophs for people and the environment. Now, there are ciruclar principles that aim at reducing plastic waste, by focusing on the recycability of the material, or the substitution of it by as much as possible.

Some initiatives are popping up much more in stores and I can see more brands advertising that their products are made with recycled ocean plastics or other recycled materials. On a first look that sounds great, because it means that we are avoiding the use of fossil fuels to create new bottles or other plastic based materials. It also means that industries working with waste problems and because of that support environmental actions.

On the second look, it does not sound sustainable. Taking ocean waste in the long term, will leave industries in a so called “lock-in”. It means their infrastructure may be build up to center around the need for specific waste products. For that to happen specific types waste must always occur in a specific quantity. This does not only leave the industry locked-in but also potentially increases the desire for waste generation. It also makes consumers believe that their product purchase is “green”, whilst it is not. Much recycled plastics products, such as rubber soles, or far worse, textiles made from recycled plastics, run off, and turn microplastics back into the environment.

Not all new sustainable systems, are sustainable by design. A transition must take place that is just, and well thought after for its long-term negative effects and possible opportunities.

Now, we could demolish plastics, but again not all plastics is bad. Some plastic materials can last very long and some of its material features might not compete with other material. What I like about it, is its ability to sustain. However, recycling requires a lot of energy and again, potentially nothing can be recycled forever and each product has its own footprint.

Much more that needs to be looked at is the system. Why are plastic based products produced? What industry do they encompoass? Who is the main target group of that plastic based content and why do they benefit from that product? What makes proudcers sell this product and what sustainable value is delivered with it?

Systems are complex ! They are interdependent and connected. One input leads to another output and one change, effects another change. Curious to learn more? Message me!

What good does it make, if Coca Cola and other industries recycle their plastics, when the fact that people are increasingly addicted to sugar, promotes such an industry to begin with? Why needing to order take-home food, wrapped in plastic, when the real problem is people working too much and potentially having too little time to cook? Why needing a range of plastic-based clothes for the many different occasions, when a smaller selection had done so well in the past? Why needing to substitute plastic straws, with other materials, when straws were long no nessecity? Why needing the many plastic- based cooking devices to cut vegetable in all sorts of imaginatory forms, when a knife had done so well for so long.

How sustainable is bamboo textile?

How sustainable is bamboo textile?

To begin with, bamboo is a fast growing resource and because of that has turned it into a favorable renewable resource. However, being renewable does not imply that it is sustainable in the processed stage such as with (some) bamboo textile. Since there have been debates about bamboo being a sustainable opportunity for textiles, I decided to look into the textile production process and evaluate, whether bamboo textile is as sustainable as advertised or how it would need to be to be sustainable. To start, I decided to look into the different types of fibre groups used in the textile industry.

There are three basic types of fibre groups:

• Natural fibres

• Regenerated fibres

• Synthetic fibres

“Regenerated and synthetic fibres are collectively known as man-made or manufactured fibres. Natural fibres are, as the name suggests, those which occur in nature, such as wool from sheep or cotton from cotton plants (Kozlowski, 2012a, 2012b). Regenerated fibres are made from natural polymers that are not useable in their original form but can be regenerated (i.e. reformed) to create useful fibres (Woodings, 2001). One of first regenerated fibres was rayon, also referred to as viscose or viscose rayon, regenerated from wood pulp. In contrast, synthetic fibres are made by polymerising smaller molecules into larger ones in an industrial process (McIntyre, 2004), “(Sinclair, R, 2015).

In what category does bamboo textile fall into?

Bamboo in itself is a natural material, it is appreciated for its quick growth and versatile purposes. Bamboo is rich in cellulose, which forms the plant fibres. You can see them in the images below (the dark dotted parts in the culm crosscut). The lighter part is the lignin, the organic substance that is binding the plant fibres.

While bamboo fibres are indeed natural, the process of producing textile from bamboo turns into a man-made production process, which can be divided into two bamboo textile production processes; The mechanical and chemical process.

The mechanical process

In the mechanical process, known as “thermomechanical fibre processing“, fibers are being extracted by firstly splitting the culms or by crushing them. These parts are then being cooked with alkaline phosphatase (a salt, but also natural acting enzyme) to extract the fibres (this step is also known as degumming). Once degummed, the fibres are being washed, dried and spinned for the production of textile.

Because this process involves the use of enzymes for the extraction of the fibers, it is one of the most environmentally friendly methods.

On the left image below you can see the bamboo’s natural very thin fibers, that are difficult to extract by hand. Because they keep their natural “rough” characteristics in the mechanical process, they are less favored by consumers. On the right image you can see two types of fibers. Can you guess, which one is the natural man-made fibre bundle?

The chemical process

The chemical process (regenerated fiber processing) differs largely to the mechanical one. It is used moslty for industrial purposes. It is the process by, which the smooth and soft form of bamboo textile, known as bamboo viscose, is produced (see white bamboo bulk on the image above). In this process all noncellulose constituents of the culm are removed. It could described as any natural surface material that “protects or covers” the fiber (viscose). “Raw cottons, for instance, contain a number of noncellulosic materials that are generally considered to be surface related and may therefore affect fiber quality , ” (Brushwood, 2003).

Bamboo viscose regenerated fiber process (Van Dam, 2018)

For the chemical process, a pulping process is used in which the cellulose fibre is seperated from bamboo pulps through chemical applications (see image above). First of all, bamboo fibres are cooked to remove any polymers (kind of like the natural glues) and organic acids. This process helps to losen the fibre structure and to have chemicals penetrate into the fibers more easily. During that process chemicals are added. ” Most common are the Kraft and sulfite pulping processes. Alternatively, alkaline (sodium/anthraquinone) or organosolv (ethanol, or acetic or formic acid) are used and followed by multiple bleaching sequences, ” (Van Dam, 2018). Once the process is completed, bamboo fibres can be filtered and spinned.

The “biofriendly” chemical process

I happened to come across one more “biofriendly” processing method in which Lyocell is produced from bamboo.  Lyocell is “a cellulose fiber that is precipitated from an organic solution in which no substitution of the hydroxyl groups takes place and no chemical intermediates are formed, ” (Chen, J., 2015).

Lyocell fiber production process (Chen, J. 2015).

During the process of lyocell production (smooth and soft fiber), only one organic compound is used to dessolve the fibers known as N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO). The production process then seems to be simliar to the one that produces viscose, with the only difference that waste such as waste water seems to remain in the production system (closed loop production) and therefore does not result into environmental contamination.

Lyocell production process

As I am reading more about it, I was suprised to see that Lyocell fiber appears to be one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly once that exist. The only criticism I could find was that the transformation of lyocell fibers into fabric and garments can use many or the same harsh, and even toxic, chemicals and processes used in conventional garments . It can therefore be recommended to purchase it from certified fiber and textile suppliers.

A patent in 2011 regarding the bamboo textile process using pulse shock treatment, high temperature and high pressure cooking process, and microbial treatment as more environmentally friendly approach to process bamboo fiber has been registered;

Is bamboo textile sustainable?

Comming back to the initial question, I would argue that bamboo viscose, used most in the industry, is not sustainable, or in other terms ecologically produced. Many chemicals are being used for the production and it may be unclear, where these and particular waste waters are released to. In addition, these chemicals can also hugely negatively impact the health of manufacturers. Lyocell production, which appears to be less used by the industry, but receives a growing recognition, seems to be promoising in terms of fiber quality, and its closed-loop production process. The traditional, mechanical process, seems to be the most ecological, but less appealing in terms of product quality as the properties of the fibers remain rather natural at this moment. It seems that it is possible to create high quality fibres with the mechanical process, but I could not find sufficient Information.

While I have mixed feelings about the different production processes, I still rate bamboo highly sustainable for textile, due to its fast growth. In comparison to other viscose that is deprived from wood, be it certified or not, I would argue that bamboo fiber provides a sustainable resource in comparison to others such as conventional timber or eucalyptus, which is known for its high rates of water consumption.

Another example is cotton. Gobally cotton covers just 2.4% of the worlds’ cultivated land, but uses less then 6% of the worlds’ pesticides (and 16% of isecticides), more than any other single major crop. On the other hand, bamboo can grow with minimum to no fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Bamboo is a pioneer plant that can grow in margenalized and degraded land, where other crops couldn’t.

For people concerned about deforestation, but not “ecological production”, I would vow for bamboo textile. However, if we were to clear land for the establishment of bamboo plantations I would out-vow bamboo textile!

How does the future for bamboo textile look like?

First of all, I would argue that we should move away from fast-fashion clothing and choose clothing that is made to last. If we buy textile made from wood viscose and throw it away after a single season, we are neglecting the fact that wood takes more then one season to grow. Bamboo on the other hand, which takes around three years to mature, provides a more sustainable opportunity. However, as with bamboo, bamboo fibers have to be produced in such a way that they meet sustainability criterias; sustainable sourced bamboo (minimal pesticide and water control during cultivation) and bamboo sourced from sustainable managed forests, bamboo produced in environmentally/people friendly conditions.

Feedback and/or questions? Feel free to contact me.

References

Bajpai, P. (2018). Biermann’s Handbook of Pulp and Paper: Volume 2: Paper and Board Making. Elsevier.

Chen, J. (2015). Synthetic textile fibers: regenerated cellulose fibers. In Textiles and Fashion (pp. 79-95). Woodhead Publishing.

Brushwood, D. E. (2003). Noncellulosic constituents on raw cotton and their relationship to fiber physical properties. Textile research journal73(10), 912-916.

Nayak, L., & Mishra, S. P. (2016). Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fashion and Textiles, 3(1), 2.

van Dam, J. E., Elbersen, H. W., & Montaño, C. M. D. (2018). 1Wageningen Food and Biobased Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands. Perennial Grasses for Bioenergy and Bioproducts: Production, Uses, Sustainability and Markets for Giant Reed, Miscanthus, Switchgrass, Reed Canary Grass and Bamboo, 175.

Sinclair, R. (2015). Understanding Textile Fibres and Their Properties: What is a Textile Fibre?. In Textiles and fashion (pp. 3-27). Woodhead Publishing.