Sustainability is not an asset for your business – it is the bare minimum

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By Marco Passoni

Sustainability is a huge topic in travel retail today – and rightly so. It is hugely important for our planet and for our future to ensure that this is front of mind for everyone and every business.

This has become such a key topic that it is impossible to discuss or read about any development in travel retail without sustainability being highlighted or someone claiming to ‘lead the way’ with a new process. Unfortunately, all too often, those ideas and processes are nowhere near where they should be – we are past the point where 50% recycled packaging can be considered enough, let alone groundbreaking.

This week the TFWA hosted two webinar events on the Wine & Spirits sector. Alongside the usual interesting insights and category updates, there was of course talk of sustainability. I was surprised though to hear Brown Forman’s Stéphane Morizet saying that sustainability takes time. This is true, but we have had time. This is not a new thing. Morizet was absolutely right when he argued that to be ready tomorrow you have to have started yesterday, but the truth is that everyone should have started yesterday. Customers are not waiting until tomorrow, they expect sustainability today.

It is true that to be ready tomorrow we had to start yesterday – but everyone should have started yesterday

I recently heard of a talk by Henrik Lund, Managing Director of the Hurtigruten Foundation, who said that sustainability is no longer an impressive trait which sets a business apart, it is the “right to play”. This, it seems to me, is much more the attitude we need.

The truth is that retail still has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to sustainability. A report released earlier this year by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center highlighted that “consumers and retailers are not on the same page when it comes to substantiable shopping”. This is because consumers are thinking way ahead of many brands and companies in this market and some are only just realising that they have much to do to catch up.

Consumers have elevated the discussion about sustainability. While many still cling to the idea that it is only young shoppers who are driving this, which would give brands time if it were true, in fact those younger shoppers are now influencing older generations. The study showed that 90% of Generation X shoppers would now pay up to 10% more for sustainable goods. This change is not coming, it is here now.

Consumers and retailers are not on the same page when it comes to substantiable shopping

But pricing remains an important part of this discussion. We all know that being sustainable is not cheap for a business and I am among those who has long championed the importance of price in our market. So, a middle ground must be found.

In a recent interview with TRBusiness, Dubai Duty Free’s Ramesh Cidambi called on brands to not just increase prices as the cost of living and manufacturing rise. Shoppers are willing to pay more, as long as they feel like they are getting more for it. Especially in travel retail, those brands and companies who seek to take advantage will quickly lose out.

Being a truly sustainable business goes beyond the simple garnishes of less plastic wrap and more recyclable cardboard. Deloitte recently reported that while 60% of people want to reduce single-use plastic, 59% are also considering reducing the number of new purchases they make in order to be more sustainable. On top of that, an increasing number (40%) are now actively seeking out sustainable brands.

The modern shopper believes that sustainability begins at home and they expect brands to follow that same approach – and to be able to display an understanding and effort which is deeply rooted in their business. Today, sustainability is not an impressive trait which sets you apart, it is a minimum requirement.

Marco Passoni has decades of experience in the travel retail sector. He has spent the majority of his career in senior leader positions throughout the market, including a 12-year tenure as CEO of a leading international Duty Free distribution company and a further 8 years running a retail firm that operated fashion mono-brand stores in several international airports.
Today, as Senior Executive VP and founding partner of 2.0 & Partners, he leads the company’s efforts in developing and innovating services which create new opportunities and partnerships for all members of the travel retail Trinity. A former elite-level sailor, with a World Championship to his name, Marco now spends much of his time airside, experiencing the changing travel retail industry first-hand, to better guide partners and clients on the best way to do business in this vibrant and unique market.