How a Sustainable Business Model Entices Customers

Posted on April 23, 2021 | Updated on October 28, 2022

As people learn about the environmental impact that consumption can have, a growing number of customers are demanding a sustainable business model for their favorite brands — companies that make eco-friendliness part of their corporate identity. 

Companies that value sustainability and eco-friendliness can get a lot out of demonstrating a commitment to these values. In many cases, sustainability in a company’s business model will entice consumers.

This is how sustainable businesses are using their manufacturing methods, packaging materials and recycling programs to draw in customers who want to help save the environment with their shopping habits.

1. Pay-for-Use

Some businesses are switching to a pay-for-use model to make themselves more sustainable. With this model, customers borrow goods and pay based on how much they use them — for example, a lighting company may charge by lux, or the amount of light a customer actually uses.

Rather than simply lease the goods, customers pay based on use and energy consumption — rewarding customers who use goods in an eco-conscious fashion.

This means that if a customer no longer needs a bulb or a particular lighting setup, the responsibility for finding a new home for that product isn’t on them. They can hand it back to the company, which will handle all necessary refurbishing and repairs before renting it to another customer.

In practice, this can help reduce waste and seriously simplify the recycling process for customers.

2. Eco-Friendly Manufacturing

Waste is one of the biggest sustainability challenges that we face right now. Finding ways to reduce waste in the manufacturing process is a great way to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability to customers.

For example, see a brand like Mondo Contract Flooring, which advertises sustainability in rubber floor production on its website.

The site describes how the business developed an eco-friendly manufacturing process — primarily through the use of solar energy to significantly cut down on the carbon footprint of the company’s flooring factory.

The section on sustainability also notes that the business’s flooring products are recyclable — ensuring that they’ll be useful even if a customer needs to replace them.

Details like this can go a long way in reassuring customers that an investment in a business’s products won’t generate extra waste down the line. 

For just about everything that people need to buy — food, clothes, electronics — a massive percentage goes to landfill, even if it could be preserved, refurbished or reused. 

In some cases, this is because there’s no good option for recycling available — or because . . . make it hard to use an item before it goes bad. In other cases, it’s because the item is difficult or impossible to recycle.

Offering recyclable goods and recycling programs is a great way to put eco-minded consumers at ease. They’ll know that if they need to replace something they buy, they won’t be contributing to our growing garbage problem. 

3. Plant-Based Product Packaging 

Finding more sustainable packaging materials can help provide customers with a valuable alternative to products made with non-sustainable packaging materials.

For example, many food and beverage companies are rethinking their own approaches to packaging, finding new ways to cut down on the use of materials like plastic.

Boxed Water is probably one of the best-known brands leading this trend. The company’s brand image is based on its unique products — packaged water that’s sold in a plant-based paper box, rather than a plastic bottle. 

This brand stands out from other packaged water products by offering an option for consumers wanting to reduce their consumption of plastic products — which are made from oil and can take millions of years to break down in the environment.

The product, in addition to being 100% recyclable, is also 92% plant-based — meaning that it can help customers minimize their consumption of non-renewable resources, like the petroleum necessary to manufacture plastic bottles, or the aluminum that you need for beverage cans.

Choice of packaging may not seem like that big of a difference — but consumer interest in sustainable packaging has been enough to sustain Boxed Water’s success.  

Similar brands — like Rethink Brands, a manufacturer of kids’ boxed water products and Liquid Death, which sells canned water — have also found major success with unique and sustainable water packaging. 

4. Recycling and Circular Manufacturing

Fast fashion has become one of the biggest targets for consumers wanting to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

Fast fashion brands are clothing companies that reproduce high-fashion designs at the cheapest price point possible — often with unsustainable manufacturing processes that rely on  exploitative working conditions. 

As knowledge about the high environmental and human costs of this business model has spread, consumers have increasingly demanded alternatives.

Sustainable fashion brands make their name by filling that niche and offering sustainable alternatives to fast fashion.

For example, Eileen Fisher is a sustainable fashion brand that has embraced what’s called circular manufacturing. 

Rather than intend for used clothes to go to landfill, this business works to ensure clothes can get a second life in the form of reselling programs. 

The company’s Renew program buys second-hand clothes back from customers and passes them on to new customers looking for used clothing.

For customers who want to minimize their carbon footprint, programs like these can be a major opportunity.

5. Eco-Friendly Shipping Options 

Consumers don’t have much in the way of eco-friendly shipping options — meaning that more sustainable options, like carbon offset shipping, can be a major selling point.

These shipping options typically involve a partnership with an organization that provides carbon offsetting services to businesses. The brands calculate the carbon impact that shipping will have and the organization helps them to invest in carbon offsets — often forestry projects. 

In theory, this helps to zero out the environmental impact that shipping an order will have. 

These shipping options often don’t require a business to upend their business model and provide a lot of extra choice to consumers. For this reason, carbon offset shipping is becoming increasingly popular among eco-conscious brands that want to provide more options to their customer base.

Customers Are Demanding Sustainable Business Practices

More and more often, customers are looking for brands that take sustainability seriously. Companies that have been able to provide sustainable alternatives — like eco-friendly manufacturing and improved recycling options — have seen new success as a result. 

Sustainable business models like these are a great way to draw in new audiences, and to demonstrate a brand’s commitment to eco-friendly manufacturing and sales practices.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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