5 ways to make products that make the world better

by May 3, 2018

I love a morning latte. Starbucks provides a $5 cup of joy that is only a drive-thru away. But that kind of routine turned out to be unsustainable – my work trash can was overflowing with the tell-tale signs in the form of single-use cups.

I’m not the only American who desires to do less harm with my daily coffee routine, or many other routines. But, as we just described in a new infographic, we’re not always great at acting out our green attitudes … and we need some help from companies to better align our behaviors with our attitudes and aspirations.

Enter Yeti. Thanks to their amazing thermos, my morning coffee routine has become sustainable – no trash can overflowing with single-use cups, and I have coffee that stays hot well into the afternoon. The Yeti is a great example of how a product can create behavior change and a sustainable future.

Designing for sustainable behavior

The opportunity here is this: Americans are telling us through our survey data that they want a healthy planet, but they really don’t want to change behaviors. They want companies to make products that allow us to (easily) behave more sustainably. So companies should start seeing sustainability as a platform for innovation and update their new product development processes to include sustainability via behavioral design.

As marketers, we are all behavioral designers, which simply means we base design on the behavioral sciences and focus on solving user/consumer problems through intended actions. Richard H. Thaler, Nobel Prize winner and author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, says we can use this power to design in default behaviors. The actions that happen by default, like the default settings on our phones, are most likely the way we will interact with a product or service. As behavioral designers, we have an opportunity to use that power for good.

Designing for your company’s future 

And more important to the long-term bottom line, sustainability can spark the development of products and services that are future-proofed. These will be the products and services prepared for the increasing demands of a future that will require all of us to live up to higher standards.

To do that future-proofing, new product development processes need to include sustainability expertise in five key steps:

  1. Guardrails: Capture and document internal and external stakeholders’ voices to inform the creation of clear, fully described outcomes. Be sure these guardrails include sustainability metrics that focus on improving the footprint of the supply chain, the impact of the consumer use of the product/service, and the end-of-life recapture.
  2. Precise descriptions: Define the target audience precisely and understand these individuals at the level of radical empathy; this should include a detailed description of exactly what they are seeking and in what contexts, looking for the benefits sustainability can offer on a rational and an emotional level.
  3. Ideas: Every corporation has their preferred way to fill the pipeline of new products and services. Most include some form of input collection and then development of creative ideas. Whatever your process is, be sure you have sustainability expertise inserted into every step, from ideation to design. These are the critical phases of creating sustainability and the place where greenwashing can occur even among the most well-intentioned.
  4. Refining: Sustainability adds a layer of complexity to the new product development process, making it even more important to be sure your team has it right. Refining those critical ideas with consumer feedback, ideally among consumers segmented by their attitudes toward sustainability, will help you optimize your product/service for all audiences.
  5. Measures: Whatever the standard tracker your company uses for new product development, be sure sophisticated sustainability metrics are included.

Sustainable new product development is one of the best levers for actually changing behavior. Make a better product; create sustainable behaviors. Simple as that. And the cherry on top is that you may gain market share and sales as a result. Who knew we needed Yeti thermoses … until we experienced them and all their benefits? That’s your opportunity.

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About the Author

Susannah Enkema

Susannah leads the research department in developing projects, and then in dissecting the findings and boiling them down to the most important insights that pave the way for smart marketing strategies and creative approaches. She works closely with the creative and account departments to offer ideas, support and information that help all departments meet client goals.

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