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How Businesses Can Empower Consumers to Make Sustainable Choices Entrepreneurs and executives can significantly influence consumer behavior towards sustainability with the right approach.

By Kerry Chen Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • Consumers can support social and environmental causes by choosing products that are made with ethical and sustainable materials and practices.
  • The product supply chain can have a significant impact on the sustainability of a product, as it can affect the environmental and social costs and benefits of production and consumption.
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Sustainability is not just a buzzword — it's a viable concept that has been gaining popularity in recent years. More and more businesses are adopting green practices and policies to reduce their environmental impact and improve their social responsibility. However, sustainability is not only a matter of business ethics but also a matter of consumer preferences. According to a survey by IBM and the National Retail Federation, 62% of consumers are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact.

Consumers have a significant role in driving sustainability, as their choices and actions can affect the demand and supply of products and services, as well as the environmental and social consequences of production and consumption. As business owners, we can empower consumers to make more sustainable choices by providing them with information, incentives and alternatives that align with their values and needs. Following, I will discuss how the circular economy can empower consumers, how product supply chains and producers can provide sustainable choices, and how businesses can inspire consumers to join the green movement.

Related: How the Circular Economy of Consumer Electronics Can Change Sustainability

Enter the circular economy

The circular economy is a concept that aims to eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. It is based on the idea of designing products and services that can be reused, repaired, refurbished, remanufactured, or recycled rather than disposed of after one use. The circular economy can empower consumers by giving them more options and benefits.

Consumers can save money and resources by buying durable, repairable and upgradable products or by renting, leasing or sharing products they do not need to own. Consumers can also save money and resources by returning or exchanging products they no longer need or want or donating or selling them to other consumers or organizations that can use them. In the clothing sector alone, the resale market is expected to grow 16 times faster than non-resale over the next few years.

Another option is giving consumers the chance to enhance their products' quality and performance by choosing products designed for longevity, functionality and adaptability or by upgrading or customizing their products according to their needs and preferences. Consumers can also enhance the quality and performance of their products by accessing professional or peer-to-peer services that can help them maintain, repair, or improve their products. In 2023, The European Union signed a proposal to facilitate and promote product repair and reuse in member states.

Additionally, consumers can support social and environmental causes by choosing products that are made with ethical and sustainable materials and practices or by contributing to the circular economy through their own actions. In a similar fashion, consumers can also participate in campaigns, movements, or programs that promote the circular economy, such as The Story of Stuff Project, which educates and mobilizes consumers to create a more sustainable world.

Related: Yes, You Should Wash Your Jeans, Says the CEO of Levi's. But His Unexpected Method Might Raise Some Eyebrows.

The roles of product supply chains and producers in providing sustainable choices

The product supply chain is the network of activities and actors involved in creating, delivering and disposing a product, from raw materials to end-users. The product supply chain can have a significant impact on the sustainability of a product, as it can affect the environmental and social costs and benefits of production and consumption.

Supply chains are responsible for 90% of greenhouse gasses emitted by organizations. The product supply chain can help reduce a product's environmental footprint by minimizing the use of energy, water and materials, using renewable or recycled sources, avoiding or reducing emissions and waste and adopting cleaner and greener technologies and processes.

The social impact of a product can also be improved by its supply chain, specifically by ensuring the health, safety and well-being of the workers and communities involved in the production and distribution of the product, by respecting their human rights and labor standards, by providing them with fair wages and benefits, and by supporting their social and economic development.

The product supply chain can increase the transparency and traceability of a product by providing clear and accurate information about the origin, composition and impact of the product by using labels, certifications or digital tools, such as QR codes or blockchain, to verify and communicate the product's history and attributes, and by engaging with consumers and stakeholders to share and receive feedback and suggestions.

Related: Save The Planet — and Your Dollars — By Making Your Office Gadgets Greener. Here's How.

Empowering consumers

As we have seen, the circular economy, the product supply chain, and the product producer can provide sustainable choices for consumers, but how can businesses empower consumers to make those choices?

First of all, businesses can educate consumers about the benefits and impact of their products and services, as well as the challenges and opportunities of sustainability, by providing them with relevant and reliable information, such as facts, figures, stories, or testimonials, through various channels, such as websites, blogs, social media, newsletters, or podcasts. For example, Ecosia is a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees and educates its users about the environmental and social issues that it supports, such as climate change, biodiversity and human rights.

Another concept that promotes sustainable consumer choices revolves around providing assurances, as demonstrated by ATRenew's Paipai Marketplace. Paipai gives consumers the confidence to purchase pre-owned electronics by offering after-sales support such as a 7-day free return policy, a 1-year warranty, and a self-operated inspection system for quality assurance and grading.

Businesses can also inspire consumers to make sustainable choices by creating a vision and a mission that can appeal to their emotions, values and aspirations, by showcasing their impact and achievements, by sharing their stories and experiences, or by collaborating with influencers, celebrities, or experts who can endorse or advocate their products and services.

Consequently, by empowering consumers to make sustainable choices, businesses can not only create a positive impact on the world but also gain a competitive advantage and a loyal customer base.

Kerry Chen

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Chairman of the Board & CEO of ATRenew, Inc.

Kerry is the CEO of ATRenew, the leading pre-owned consumer electronics transactions and services platform. ATRenew is on a mission to give a second life to all idle goods by facilitating recycling and trade-in services, and distributing the devices to prolong their lifecycle.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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