A Sustainable Approach to Sustainability. Why Green Must be Profitable

By: Chris Madden   •   email: info@trunblocked.com

”Sustainability was the word on everyone’s lips at this month’s TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes. From new approaches to packaging, to revamping the industry’s mindset – everyone was talking about making the business more green. But Travel Retail is a business and for sustainability to be, well, sustainable, it has to make money.

” Sustainability talk does not work”, says Yusuf Okhai, CEO of Aydya. He and his team were in the Innovation Lab at the TFWA World Exhibition, showcasing their Ion8 One Touch reusable water bottle. But Okhai has higher goals for the industry’s sustainable mindset.

” We are capitalists,” he argues. ”Our economy is driven by risk and reward – so the only concept that can drive change is profitable sustainability.”

Travel Retail industry tends to have a passion for buzzwords and trends

The Travel Retail industry tends to have a passion for buzzwords and trends which are widely discussed, but often with little development. In recent years, topics including digital, millennials and overhauling the Trinity have been debated with varying success.

But the simple truth is that good intentions will not save the world and the market will not get behind something which cannot make it money. Okhai, however, believes Travel Retail has the scope for sustainability – but profitability is absolutely at its core.

”Travel Retail is full of smart minds. They are all very well aware of the importance of the issue,” he says. But knee-jerk reactions like doing away with all plastic packaging is neither realistic for travel retail nor, it turns out, a solution.

”(You hear that) Plastics are bad. Plastics kill dolphins,” Okhai explains. ” They do not. If we took 480 billion trees, or 480 billion socks, or even 480 billion potatoes into the ocean, sea life would be devastated. It is not the plastic that is the issue – it’s the dumping and the people.”

What the market needs is solutions which are practical and will not wreck the business model. But there is an issue with awareness:
”(Businesses) can’t implement what doesn’t exist or what they are unaware of. So, they need solutions – and profitable ones.”

A Sustainable Approach to Sustainability. Why Green Must be Profitable

Okhai is far from the only voice calling for profitability to be the heart of environmental change. In a 2012 article for the International Journal of Reproductive Economics, Frank Figge and Tobias Hahn argued that companies could make sustainability profitable by ”using environmental resources more effectively than the market.”

The wider industry is taking notice, too. Speaking to Business Because, Copenhagen Business School Associate Andreas Rasche called sustainability a ”mega-trend” and ”mainstream business”, while Michigan Ross School of Business Professor Gautam Kaul believes companies which focus solely on financial return will not exist in 20 years.

But everyone from Greta Thunberg to the Extinction Rebellion activists are telling us sustainability is an issue which must be addressed now. So how can sustainability be profitable for Travel Retail today?

Okhai and his team have laid out a series of measures in a presentation which they were showing in Cannes. Among their suggestions are initiatives to make refillable bottles available at airport retail outlets and reduce costs by reducing waste and trash. The team is also encouraging airport operators to utilise their wealth of data to provide sensibly-placed refill points for water based on passenger movement.

But, as ever, plans and ideas are only half the battle. Schemes must be implemented and Okhai – and those like him – are clear that good intentions will not do the job.

”What we have is a shortage of profitable solutions,” he says.

”We need smart solutions, and hungry people that will do what is necessary to benefit from the opportunities. And there are opportunities aplenty. Ideas occur to those who care.”