‘Nudging’ Major Buyers To Make Sustainable Choices

December 10, 2013

Since the earliest days of the sustainability movement there has been an emphasis on influencing individual consumers to make greener choices, says Yalmaz Siddiqui, senior director of environmental strategies for Office Depot.

This isn’t where the movement should focus its efforts, Siddiqui told an audience at Kroon Hall.

“It is the big buyer — in federal governments, in countries, in states, in hospitals and hotel chains, in companies around the world — that will really make the big difference in terms of accelerating our transition to sustainability,” he said.

In the latest Colloquium on Sustainability Marketing, Siddiqui and Michael Murphy, executive director of regulatory compliance for engineering and environmental affairs at Dell Inc., described the key role that these large buyers have played in the emergence of greener products and in defining what sustainability means.

And they shared the strategies their companies use to “nudge” major buyers, from the federal government to large universities, to make greener choices.

At Dell, Murphy said, sustainability has become increasingly important over the last decade because it matters more to customers and buyers. In response, the company now has sales teams educate large buyers about environmentally responsible options and has introduced a “built-to-order” model that allows more sustainable choices.

Likewise, Office Depot urges the purchasing departments of large customers to choose products that are more environmentally sustainable.

Corporate sustainability, however, is not something that should be rushed, Siddiqui said. In many ways, he said, it is a new sphere being defined by the people doing it everyday. And while that makes it an exciting field, many uncertainties remain: Who should make the final decisions on standards? What are the benefits? And how should they be shared?

According to Siddiqui, Office Depot’s chief financial officer once said that sustainability is still in the “second inning” of its existence. “All of you who are going into these roles are going to want to do everything tomorrow,” he said. “You’re going to try to do nine innings in nine minutes because you’ve got a passion for this space.

“But if we have a long time horizon for achieving our objectives, I think having strategic patience is helpful in moving the needle within a company.”

The event was coordinated by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY) and the Yale Center for Customer Insights, and was sponsored by DEKRA

– Kevin Dennehy    kevin.dennehy@yale.edu    203 436-4842

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