FacebookFacebook icon TwitterTwitter icon LinkedInLinkedIn icon Email

Brain circuits

Four sustainability strategies and when to use them

Published 16 December 2022 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

We’ve borrowed language from nature, or gardening specifically, to frame the four strategies your company can take when considering how to become more sustainable. While these strategies have been defined as categories, they are not mutually exclusive. Companies should consider different approaches from each of these categories to determine where they can make the most impact.

  1. You add a new business attribute to your product that makes it more sustainable. In this case you are staying in the same playing field but making some aspect of your product more sustainable for your customers. This doesn’t change your brand significantly, it simply enriches it.

When to use it: If there is a lot of growth potential for you to highlight your sustainable attributes. There is no reason to make changes if there is a lot of growth potential for your company where you are now.

  1. You are staying in the same playing field, but you need help from your customers. A good example of this is asking the customers to reuse or recycle your product when it hits the end of its life cycle.

When to use it: This is something you do if there is already growth potential for your brand, like in fertilizing, but you recognize there is a critical aspect of sustainability where you will need help. You can’t control how consumers dispose of your product but if you ask them to do better, figure out if there is a way you can help them. Can they send used products back to your company? It’s important to show consumers you are in this together.

  1. This is arguably the most difficult of all four strategies. It means you are going into a new space to conduct business, but also asking consumers to change their behavior in some way. This is a strategy where you are asking customers to join with you to essentially rewrite the rules of the sector. A good example of this is Vanish detergent asking consumers to keep their clothes for longer than they used to do so to save space in landfills.

When to use it: When growth is declining, and you think sustainability issues in your industry are too narrow to help you.

  1. If your company has moved into a whole new space, we call this transplanting. A good example of this is Volvo, which is selling electric cars but realized it mattered how customers were charging those cars to ensure a truly green driving experience. Therefore, they decided to launch Volts, where they are essentially selling green energy contracts to their customers. This is a sustainability move and a business move at the same time.

When to use it: When you think you can gain a competitive advantage in an adjacent market.

Further interest: 

Moving the Needle on Sustainability by Goutam Challagalla and Frédéric Dalsace

Four sustainability strategies for your brand with Goutam Challagalla and Frédéric Dalsace


Goutam Challagalla

Professor of Marketing and Strategy

Goutam Challagalla is Professor of Strategy and Marketing at IMD. His teaching, consulting, and research focuses on strategy with a focus on digital transformation, business-to-business commercial management, value-based pricing, sales management, distribution channels, and customer and service excellence. He is Faculty Director of the Digital Marketing Strategy (DMS) program, the Advanced Management program, the Marketing Strategy in the Digital Age program, the Digital Marketing Fundamentals program.

Frédéric Dalsace

Professor of Marketing and Strategy at IMD

Prior to IMD, Frédéric Dalsace spent 16 years as a Professor at HEC Paris where he held the Social Business / Enterprise and Poverty Chair presided by Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. Prior to his academic life, he accumulated more than 10 years of experience in the business world, both with industrial companies (Michelin and CarnaudMetalbox) and as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company. He is Co-Program Director of the Leading Customer – Centric Strategies program.


Learn Brain Circuits

Join us for daily exercises focusing on issues from team building to developing an actionable sustainability plan to personal development. Go on - they only take five minutes.
Read more 

Explore Leadership

What makes a great leader? Do you need charisma? How do you inspire your team? Our experts offer actionable insights through first-person narratives, behind-the-scenes interviews and The Help Desk.
Read more

Join Membership

Log in here to join in the conversation with the I by IMD community. Your subscription grants you access to the quarterly magazine plus daily articles, videos, podcasts and learning exercises.
Sign up

You have 4 of 5 articles left to read.