Designing customer-oriented sustainable offerings – how to tackle the barriers?

Blog post
Maria Antikainen,
Päivi Petänen

Many companies need to incorporate sustainability elements into their offering, to exist in the market and succeed in the competitive environment. However, the customers’ sustainability orientation changes quickly and the market keeps on transforming. This can raise challenges in designing successful sustainable models that resonate with customers’ needs. Here are four scientifically-proven guidelines for tackling these barriers and improving the innovation process of customer-oriented sustainable offerings.

1. Ensure fluent communication between the stakeholders

Innovating sustainable solutions often requires involving a broad range of actors from the stakeholder network. For example, circular models can be very hard to implement without the commitment of multiple partners. This means that sustainable offerings are often co-designed through many layers of interaction, which may increase the risk of miss-communication and reduce efficiency. Severe inconsistencies between the level of sustainability-orientation or competencies of the actors in the value chain can further complicate this process. Fluent and open communication between all relevant actors during the innovation process is essential for ensuring that the sustainable offering will be profitable for the company and attractive to the customers. 

2. Go hand-in-hand with the customer

Supplier-customer partnerships can play a crucial role in promoting sustainability in business. For some companies – especially in the B2B field – it is nearly impossible to develop a new sustainable model without cooperating closely with the customer. In these cases, the company and the customer learn – and fail – together. Rapid experimentations and piloting processes are often deployed as the companies are innovating novel models for sustainability. The transformation is likely to be a back-and-forth process. If this is done hand-in-hand with the customer, the process incorporates gradually developing knowledge of sustainability-related customer value. This increases the odds to develop genuinely customer-oriented offerings.

3. Identify what the customers truly value

For some companies, the orientation towards sustainability is embedded in their cultural elements and values. Being a forerunner in sustainability and having a strong sustainability orientation can be very good starting points for designing the offering. However, to establish benefits that the customers truly value, there has to be a strong match between the customer needs and the offering reflecting the sustainability values of the company. This goes for any type of company, regardless of the level of initial sustainability orientation: the sustainable offering needs to be adjusted to evolve and adapt to the customers’ level of motivation and acceptance in terms of sustainability. 

4. Verify the sustainability facts

In many domains, the customers tend to compare the benefits of the new sustainable solutions with those of the traditional solutions. This happens especially among customer segments with a lower level of maturity in terms of sustainability competencies. It is important for companies to articulate clearly the superior benefits of the models that are better for environment or society. Basing the sustainability argumentation on facts, verifications, science, and standards makes the sustainable offering more understandable and easily adaptable to the customers. Executing calculation methods like the Life Cycle Assessment or other types of scientific research can help increase the credibility of the sustainable offering.

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Maria Antikainen
Maria Antikainen
Päivi Petänen
Päivi Petänen
Research Scientist

Customers expect personalisation, speed, quality, and low price from products. At the same time all production and logistics need to be as environmentally friendly as possible. For all of this to be profitable, cooperation among many actors, new service business activities, and the utilisation of developed technologies are needed throughout the value chain.