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More and more companies without a sustainability profile will achieve less and less

01.08.2016 08:54 Uhr PSI / PSI Sustainability Awards

Pacemaker for the promotional products industry: The PSI Sustainable League

Throughout the global economy, CSR and sustainability are implemented and promoted at an accelerated pace. One after another, an increasing number of consumer and private-label brands as well as representatives of the capital-goods industry are committing themselves to certified sustainability. They’re changing production processes, defining concrete goals and illustrating the steps they’ve taken by providing concrete figures. No longer is the economy as such an absolute value; these days, it can only function in balance with the environment and working conditions.

Increasingly, sustainability is emerging as the yardstick of the economy, something of a tacitly presumed legitimisation for participation in economic life – and thus, ipso facto, a bottleneck for companies who’ve been standing at the sidelines so far.

It’s a phenomenon of our time that reflects far more than just a trend or, even worse, the next hype. Moreover, it’s an issue that will never go away again. The focus is moving ever more strongly to our companies, their suppliers and us as consumers, all of whom are called upon to act. Already, without even having to look into the crystal ball, we can make this prediction: More and more companies without a sustainability profile will achieve less and less. And soon they won’t be able to get anything done at all.

Without a sustainability profile, they might go out of business

We’re facing a paradigm shift in our economy, both in the B2C and B2B arena. Recently in this space, we already brought you a report about the increased significance of sustainable products for German grocer Aldi Süd. But the discounter, despite being a key driver, is by no means alone.

Key benchmark companies that long ago started to conquer the sustainability battlefield include – stinging criticism in the interim notwithstanding – Otto (formerly: Otto Versand) and Edeka, the largest German food retailer. So in a nutshell we’re talking about textiles and food. A purported 75% of Otto’s textiles this year are sustainably produced in-house under the “Cotton made in Africa” label (CmiA for short). The Hamburg-based e-retailer aims to bring that figure to 100% by 2020. CmiA supports about 700,000 African smallholders in their efforts to grow sustainable cotton. Otto is currently spreading the sustainability message to consumers via a 360° campaign featuring TV commercials, among other measures.

Edeka is a step ahead of them yet. For years already, the giant food retailer has been engaged in a partnership with the environmental organisation World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). Up until now, the collaboration has emphasised fish and seafood, palm oil, soy, paper and tissue, wood, and climate and water. Now they’re adding a packaging initiative: Edeka is determined to work with the WWF to reduce its packaging CO2 footprint, as well.

Promotional products industry as part of the supply chain

One doesn’t need a lot of imagination to identify the areas where the promotional products industry intersects with the value chains of both the consumer- and the capital-goods industry. After all, it’s impossible for promotional products agencies and their suppliers to circumvent the new ambassadors of sustainability – the likes of Aldi, Otto, Edeka, Unilever, Ikea, Deutsche Telekom etc. – including their main brands and private labels.

Companies that operate in sustainable ways are no longer considered exotic. Values have shifted. Increasingly, those who lay low, bide their time or act indecisively will be turned into outsiders. That message has been received all around, including by broad swaths of the promotional products industry.

Evidence for that can be found not only in the number of submissions to the PSI Sustainability Awards but also in the simultaneous boost in the quality of entered products, campaigns, certificates and in-house corporate initiatives as well as in the documentation that’s included with the entries.

An analysis of the latest PSI Industry Barometer 1/2016 underscores this notion. More than half of suppliers (54%) answered in the affirmative when asked: “Have you taken any steps to become certified or obtained proof of sustainability in 2015?”

The response from distributors was a bit more restrained. But a strong third (35%) of these sales intermediaries have already started thinking about sustainability and, at a minimum, can point to some initial practical steps they’ve taken.

The platform idea behind the PSI Sustainability Awards

The question isn’t anymore “whether” corporate sustainability is necessary, it’s all about the “how” now. Understanding this point is the key to a new management approach. That’s precisely what we can glean from the submissions and outcomes of the PSI Sustainability Awards. At the awards ceremony on 2 September 2016, the city of Wiesbaden will experience the promotional products industry’s new benchmark companies in the various segments that comprise sustainability.

On that day, the sustainability trailblazers of the European promotional products industry will get together at the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden to celebrate and learn from the nominees and award winners chosen from their midst in an atmosphere of mutual exchange: the birth of the PSI Sustainable League as a sustainability platform.

We can rightly say that our promotional products industry in 2016 has once again inched closer to being sustainable. We’d be equally justified in looking towards the challenges and opportunities of the future with optimism. Not least, it’s the PSI Sustainability Awards that year after year confirm the ability of the promotional products industry to piggyback on the sustainability profile of the European economy as a whole.


Picture credit: Behrendt und Rausch

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