How to Make Your Products and Services More Sustainable

Paige Smith

Running a sustainability-conscious business requires more than just recycling at the workplace. You also need to address the environmental impact of your offerings. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make your products and services more sustainable. 

Keep reading for more information on what constitutes a sustainable offering, the difference between sustainable and eco-friendly products, and how to make changes. 

What is a sustainable product or service? 

A sustainable product or service is one that makes a positive environmental, social, and economic impact throughout its lifecycle. When you provide a sustainable good or service, you have to consider not just the final result and procurement process but also the ripple effect your work has on the world. 

Let’s review the three spokes of sustainability: 

  1. Environment: Sustainable products and services use resources that can be easily replenished and don’t harm the environment. That means prioritizing the environment during every aspect of a product’s lifecycle, from sourcing to disposal. 
  2. People: Sustainable products and services support human rights and well-being. That includes what a product or service accomplishes for the end user, as well as how the people involved in production are treated and compensated. 
  3. Economy: Sustainable products and services support long-term economic growth without compromising the health of humans or the planet. That could mean creating more local jobs or redirecting business profits to specific communities or environmental causes.  

Other signs of sustainable products or services 

Customers know companies prioritize sustainability when they:

  • Share their sustainability goals (and progress) openly
  • Explain how and where their products are made
  • Have a reputable green business certification
  • Accurately label their products
  • Provide sustainable packaging
  • Give back to environmental causes  

What’s the difference between sustainable products and eco-friendly products? 

Sustainable products and services meet the requirements for environmental, social, and economic impact. Eco-friendly products and services, on the other hand, simply help reduce environmental harm.  

While sustainability focuses on holistic long-term solutions that support people, the planet, and the economy, eco-friendliness takes a narrower approach to environmental change. 

Keep in mind that if a product is labeled as sustainable, it’s also eco-friendly. However, not every eco-friendly product can be considered sustainable. 

The benefits of offering sustainable products and services

The more sustainable you can make your products and services, the greater your company’s overall impact will be. Offering sustainable products and services means you’re reducing your carbon footprint, supporting the people behind your products, and paving the way for long-term economic growth. 

However, there are countless other benefits. Sustainable products and services help: 

  • Appeal to customers: Customers care about the environment—and they want their spending to make a positive difference. According to PDI Technologies’ 2023 Business of Sustainability Index, 74% of consumers care about the environmental impact of the products they buy. 
  • Improve brand reputation: Offering thoughtful, sustainable goods and services can help you build trust and loyalty among your customers, community, and peers.
  • Differentiate your offerings: Making your products or services more sustainable gives you a competitive advantage, in large part because it helps you stand out to customers. In PDI Technologies’ report, 79% of the consumers surveyed said they want an easier way to identify environmentally-friendly companies. Offering sustainable products and services—and labeling them clearly and accurately—can help. 
  • Justify your prices: The majority of customers are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings. Almost three-quarters (68%) of the consumers surveyed in the PDI Technologies report said they would pay more for sustainable products. 

The challenges of offering sustainable products and services

Creating sustainable products and services is a worthwhile investment in your operation and the environment, but it’s important to understand the obstacles you might face. Here are some challenges to consider: 

  • There’s a learning curve that comes with making sustainable changes. Figuring out the best way to balance sustainability goals with business strategy can be complex. 
  • It takes considerable cash flow to make lasting changes. You may have to invest in research and development, for example, expand your marketing budget to rebrand, or pay more for raw materials and sustainable packaging. 
  • Changing your products and services takes time, and could interfere with short-term sales and growth plans. 
  • You might have to raise your prices, which could put some customers off at first. 
  • Maintaining sustainable practices means adhering to rigid operational standards, especially if you have or want to apply for a green business certification. You’ll need to implement an internal evaluation system and choose metrics to measure your progress toward all your sustainability initiatives. 

Can you realistically offer a sustainable product or service? 

In an ideal world, every business would offer only 100% sustainable products and services all the time. However, it takes time to reach that point. As a business owner striving for sustainability, it’s crucial to aim for progress over perfection. 

It’s okay if you can’t provide a completely sustainable product or service right now—you can always embrace the eco-friendly option as you continue to find ways to minimize environmental harm and make positive social and economic contributions. 

When debating the sustainable changes you can make to your offerings, consider your business model, customers, cash flow, upcoming sales forecasts, and current growth plans. Depending on the growth stage and financial state your business is in, you might need to start small with sustainability—or you could be in a position to overhaul your entire operation. 

Regardless of where you’re at, it’s helpful to write a sustainability plan so you can create a realistic roadmap to change. Some of your sustainability initiatives could start immediately; others might still be several years away. 

5 ways to improve the sustainability of your products and services

Consider these changes to move the needle toward creating more sustainable products and services:

1. Evaluate your business model and product usage

Your product’s essential function, as well as what customers indirectly support when they buy it, can either push you toward sustainability or set you back. 

Of course, most products don’t actively support the health of the planet, but they can help reduce environmental harm. Products that release pollutants into the air, for example, or take thousands of years to degrade, are actively damaging to the environment. 

On the other hand, products that people can recycle, that support customers in their own eco-friendly habits, or that contribute to a greater social or environmental cause have a higher eco-friendly factor. 

Beyond shifting your product’s usage (or eliminating a harmful product altogether), you can also tweak your business model to promote sustainability. Think: by launching a line of buy-one-give-one products so customers’ money goes straight to supporting a worthy cause or donating proceeds from certain products to nonprofit environmental groups or local charities.  

2. Switch to renewable raw materials where you can

Using renewable raw materials is a surefire way to up the sustainability score of your products. That’s because renewable raw materials replenish themselves in a relatively short period of time, as opposed to non-renewable raw materials like natural gas and oil, which pollute the air and create tons of nonbiodegradable plastic waste. 

(Not sure which products are made from fossil fuels? Check out this list from the US Department of Energy listing everyday products made from oil and natural gas.)

Renewable raw materials include items like wood, wool, soy, cotton, bamboo, and cork, all of which are easy to grow and have a variety of uses—from textiles and packaging to chemicals and biodegradable plastics. 

Make a list of the various raw materials used to create your products and services, and consider whether or not you can make sustainable switches. 

3. Embrace local sourcing 

Where you source your materials is the next piece of the sustainability puzzle. Using local manufacturers and distributors instead of international supplies hits the three different pillars of sustainability: 

  • Environment: Using nearby suppliers reduces your business’s carbon footprint by cutting down on the carbon emissions created by transportation and shipping. 
  • Economy: Supporting local suppliers puts money back into your local economy, supporting long-term growth. 
  • People: Partnering with local suppliers makes the entire production process more ethical; you can visit your suppliers in person to gauge quality control and ensure you’re supporting a company that treats its workers well. 

If you’ve been relying on international suppliers, consider making a change. Search for suppliers near you, ask around your local small business community, or reach out to industry or trade associations for recommendations. 

4. Use manufacturers and distributors who prioritize sustainability

How your products get made and distributed—and the people you outsource to along the way—play a huge role in how sustainable those products and services are. Not only do sustainable supply chain practices shrink your carbon footprint, but they also give you an opportunity to make positive social and economic contributions. 

Start by considering how much energy your products take to produce from start to finish. Think about the supply chain logistics from your business’s perspective, then ask the manufacturers and distributors you partner with to share how they cut down on carbon emissions and reduce waste. 

Your manufacturers might use renewable energy sources in their factories, rely on energy-efficient equipment, or enforce closed-loop manufacturing methods to cut down on waste. Your distributors might have electric trucks for ground delivery or use transportation management software to pack vehicles more efficiently. 

It’s also important to consider how your manufacturers and distributors practice sustainability from a social and economic standpoint. Think: paying warehouse employees above minimum wage or only working with companies that demonstrate sustainable values.  

5. Rethink your product disposal

To make your products more sustainable, it’s essential to improve where they end up. Making products out of recyclable or reusable materials is just half of the solution; you also need to make sure your products are properly disposed of. 

That starts with clearly labeling your products, as well as packaging they come in, with recognizable recycling symbols. If you sell products that customers might not know how to recycle (like electronics), make sure to include information on your website about how to properly dispose of them. 

Depending on your products, you could also offer return, refill, and reuse options to customers who bring back used items or empty containers. Better yet, incentivize them to recycle at one of your locations by rewarding them with discounts or loyalty points. 

Keep learning and improving

Making your products and services more sustainable isn’t a one-and-done initiative; it’s a constant effort. That’s why it’s helpful to think about what you can do now to set yourself up for continued growth and improvement. 

Consider creating a research and development task team dedicated to gathering information on the latest green tech innovations or product offerings. Or carve out time every quarter to attend relevant business sustainability conferences and connect with other industry professionals to compare notes.

Paige Smith Paige is a content marketing writer specializing in business, finance, and tech. She regularly writes for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies and small business lenders. See more of her work here:
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