Sustainability In Office Coffee Service

March 31, 2016

Sustainable. Biodegradable. Recyclable. Green. The environmentally friendly lexicon has dozens of words that give the sense that this packaged option is in some way less wasteful or polluting of the environment. But do these words make a difference for selling office coffee service items to consumers?

The short answer? Yes.

Universally, Nielsen has found that consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, 66 percent in fall of 2015, which is 11 percentage points higher than the year before. The company also reports that in that same year, sales of goods sold from brands that demonstrated a commitment to being “green” grew more than 4 percent, compared to other brands that grew less than 1 percent.

Through my many talks with operators, as well as findings from surveys, it appears that more consumers and workplaces are asking about sustainability and looking at these options. Ultimately, however, the sale of eco-friendlier foods and beverages (specifically packaging) depends on the business and the geographical region.

Custom & convenience win out

In the industry, getting what the consumer wants, when they want it is still a trump card. I suggest looking at the popularity of single-cup coffee brewers as an example. It has slowed, but in many areas of the country it’s still the system that is asked about more than any other. And we all know why. Consumers want convenience and customization. In short, they expect to get the items—in this case, coffee — that they want.

Rather than simply being glad there is coffee in the office, consumers lament that it isn’t the roast, blend, etc. that they prefer.

So how does this translate to sustainability?

As the Nielsen survey found, customers are asking for sustainable products. Other industry players are responding, such as coffee shops, for example, offering disposable cups and recycled coffee cup sleeves.

In the U.K., a television show is highlighting the waste of disposable cups and has spurred Starbucks to double its discount to customers that bring reusable cups, according to Communicaffe.

Marketing sustainability

We have certainly all seen the marketing about compostable, recyclable, biodegradable, eco-friendly, etc. single-cup coffee cartridges. Various manufacturers and coffee providers are trying to hit on the perfect solution that will take off when society reaches that tipping point on sustainability…if it reaches one.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a whole section on environmental claims and how they can and should be used on product labels. Most of them have more to do with not deceiving the public by misleading them than official definitions in this document, which I thought was interesting.

It feels like sustainable and environmental claims have become more about marketing aimed at the evolving preference for these products among consumers. However, as the idea of business transparency – companies showing their business practices to the public – becomes more important, I think “green” claims will have to be more than words to really make an impact.

Keep an eye on the environmental aspects of the products you sell. It is a topic becoming increasingly important to your customers, and should therefore be increasing important to you. It’s a great time to be proactive about these products with many things already out there that meet sustainable standards.