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It's amazing how often we deny customers their basic wishes. Then, when we give them what they want, they respond, buying our products and becoming loyal to our brands. It's not rocket science. Let's look at a few businesses that have done just that.
Take In-N-Out Burger, a West coast burger chain. In the low-priced fast food burger world, McDonalds long reigned as champion. But drive by any In-N-Out Burger joint between lunch time and 1am, and you'll find cars lined up waiting to get their burgers. Meanwhile, across the street at McDonalds, parking lots are nearly empty. In-N-Out Burger offers a whopping three main meal choices (hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and double cheeseburgers) and still manages to dominate the West Coast fast food market. How’d they do it? Fresh ingredients. Smiling, well-paid, employees. Sparkling clean interiors. It's what the customer wanted.
Or consider Tesla. How could Tesla, an unproven automaker, rise to take on titans of industry like GM and Ford, and long-dominant luxury brands like Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus? Nothing was hidden from the competition. Elon Musk shared their damn patents, promising no lawsuits in order to speed up innovation toward a zero emissions future. Climate change had been in the news for decades, but Tesla was the first to kick off the electric car revolution. Now, they’re the number one luxury car brand in the country*. How’d they do it? Stylish, fast cars. Good range and charge time. Clean emissions. It's what the customer wanted.
We lose sight of what the customer wants when we focus more on next quarter than on long-term competitiveness. How many restaurant chains pay minimum wage, then expect more than with minimum wage smiles? How many auto companies hold off on investing in the next-gen factory, because they want 10 or 20 more years out of their existing plant? It looks great on paper, until one day you get beat, bad.
Well, today, most businesses are still not giving the customer what they want when it comes to climate change and sustainability. To illustrate that point, let’s take a look at where Americans stand on the environment. Politicians have sowed confusion on climate change for years by challenging the science**, and media has compounded the problem by giving each side balanced coverage. We’re all familiar with the arguments. Is climate change real? Is it too costly to take action? Is it too late to do anything? While the average American may have been confused for years by the political/media circus, their stance is now clear. Americans want action. Let's take a look at how they break out into segments, based on their attitudes about climate change and sustainability.
Notice which side has more people…..the bigger pile of gold, so to speak? At one extreme, we have the Hoaxers, who believe not only that climate change isn't real, but that the whole climate change argument is a hoax. For 64% of Hoaxers, the only proof required is, "we still have cold winters." They are mostly unconcerned about environmental issues, with the exception of water pollution. They make up “a very loud” 5% of the population. FIVE PERCENT!!
At the other end of the spectrum are Champions, who are deeply stressed about the human impact to the environment; climate change and plastic waste rank as their biggest concerns. They are activists; 44% report steering business away from companies they believe are wasteful or harmful to the environment. This group makes up 15% of the population. Three times the size of Hoaxers.
Working in from either end-point, the American population continues to lean heavily toward taking environmental action. The Alarmed Masses are the largest segment; nearly one-third of the population. Resembling Champions, Alarmed Masses have serious concerns about the environment and a desire for progress. Unlike Champions, it's difficult for them to prioritize sustainability with the demands of daily life. What option do they have when running to the grocery store, but to load up on plastic containers? What choice do they have when ordering goods online, but to bring home boxes full of single-use plastic or Styrofoam? Nevertheless, 22% of Alarmed Masses intentionally steer business away from wasteful companies. Jumping back to the other side of the scale, Skeptics (one-fifth of the population) don't believe climate change is a real problem, but also don’t believe it's a hoax. They don't dwell on the environment, nor go out of their way to steer business toward companies that are working to address environmental problems. However, they're also not enemies of progress, and are likely to implement practical solutions toward reducing waste.
The scale has tipped; Americans want companies to build sustainable practices that protect the environment. The era of confusion on climate change is in the rear-view mirror, so keep your eye on the open-road ahead. To grow and protect your business for the long haul, it's time to give the customer what they want. If you don't take bold action toward sustainability, don't be shocked when your competition does, or when a new player in your field pushes down the pedal and leaves you in the dust.
If you want to learn more, visit http://finn-group.com/environment for a copy of our sustainability research.
**97% of scientists believe climate change is real, and is caused by human activity. Source: NASA - https://climate.nasa.gov/