Is it right to profit from sustainability?

Nathan Damarell, The MD of KF Kitchens in Plymouth questions whether profiting from sustainability is ethically sound. Are sustainability USPs just another sales bullet point or should we all be putting our money where our mouth is?

To understand the background to this article, I would like to convey my green credentials – and they are not particularly impressive!

Being 50 years old and having been involved in the kitchen industry for nearly 30 years, I grew up in the 1980s, 1990s and Noughties when environmental factors were rarely considered and when many doubted that climate change was even a thing.

Am I slightly embarrassed by that? Yes, I am. Am I slightly embarrassed that it took David Attenborough on the BBC’s Blue Planet programme, for me to even think about my plastic use? Yes, I am.

I’m not about to glue myself to our local roundabout in protest. However, I have said for many years that there will be a time in our lives when our generation become the leaders and decision-makers. It is the time when we are experienced, financially secure, knowledgeable about lots of subjects and for our generation, that’s about right now.

We recently had a meeting with one of our well-known suppliers. The rep talked about the benefits of the product, its safety aspects in people’s homes and its sustainability benefits in reducing our impact on the environment. We all know the story, it may be an oven, a tap, a waste disposal unit or a fridge, and the story goes that the environmental benefits can provide a huge stimulus for up-selling. After espousing these virtues, the rep then went on to explain how the methods they are putting in place will prevent internet competition and maintain margin for retailers.

We talked about the benefits we both found ourselves, both of us having the top-specification product at home, and how we are doing our bit for our household’s safety and environmental impact. Easy for us, I thought afterwards, we didn’t have to pay retail!

After the meeting, I drove home in my new electric vehicle, bought not because I love it or was desperate to reduce my carbon footprint, but because the Government have incentivised me financially to do so.

They have deemed that electric is greener than petrol or diesel and so it became financially prudent to buy electric. Society does this a lot, we reduce pricing on things we want to encourage people to buy. I started thinking, if some of the products we sell in our industry are so great for safety or the environment, should we really be ‘making a nice few quid’ each time we sell one?

When we meet a customer who wants to do the right thing, is making more profit out of them crass or simply just business? Is declaring that a product is sustainable truly for the benefit of the cause, or is it simply a USP used to increase sales?

We had discussions in the office and concluded that we all felt a little uncomfortable with it. As a result, we have decided that we are going to take on a limited number of ‘green’, ambassador products, each year. We’ll let suppliers put forward their case and their realworld green credentials. The products we agree the purchase of will be “good” purchases we will sell to our clients at cost price and even maybe somewhat below cost price, to help our customers do the right thing.

When I posted this idea on social media, there was a suggestion that all products need to generate a profit. I understand the point, I’m not on a crusade to become a charity. But we are a multifaceted sales environment, we make margin out of lots of products, could we help out by giving away profit on a few that we feel are the most worthy? Instead of up-selling to sustainable products, could we reduce our margin on those?

I was also told nobody would believe us, they’d think the cost was built in elsewhere. And that I think is the point. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

We are going to do something to make a difference, not to sell more and make a few quid, but because we believe in the virtue of a product to make a difference. If we ask clients to invest in doing the right thing, surely we can “put our money where our mouth is”.

Home > Opinion > Is it right to profit from sustainability?