Due to the growing pressures of climate change on a global scale, consumers are increasingly becoming more knowledgeable about their impact on the environment, due to initiatives such as Earth Day, celebrated worldwide annually on the 22 April. This has also led to an increase in the demand for businesses that supply environmentally-friendly products and services.
This is according to Christo Botes, spokesperson for the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® competition, who says that there has been a gradual growth in the number of South Africa entrepreneurs creating eco-friendly service-focused businesses.
“This trend could mainly be ascribed to consumer demand, especially the more sophisticated and demanding consumer, and the entrepreneurial trait of always looking out for new opportunities of carving out a niche market for him or herself and be the “first mover” when it comes to new product lines and/or alternatives.”
A recent BBMG Conscious Consumer Report revealed that nearly nine in 10 Americans say the words “conscious consumer” describe them well and that 87% of respondents are more likely to buy from companies that are committed to environmentally-friendly practices.
Botes says that this change in consumer behavior is also gaining momentum in South Africa and provides a gap in the market for local entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to not only make a difference in the environment in which they operate, but to also ensure they remain competitive and current. “Many consumers are looking for ways to minimise their impact on the environment and as a result, ‘going green’ is increasingly being regarded as an attractive business strategy.”
One such entrepreneur who noticed this gap is Warren Graver, founder and director of Envirodeck, who saw an opportunity to providing an alternative to timber in the decking sector.
Graver says that the growth of green products in this industry has been phenomenal, not only in international markets, but also increasingly in South Africa. “Nowadays there are opportunities for business owners to capitalise on in terms of implementing more sustainable products and practices for their customers.
“Business owners need to continually look at sustainable products and practices to remain competitive. For example, in the market that I operate in, there is a huge drive coming from architects and designers who are designing full green projects in line with international trends, and those companies who have not recognised the trend of sustainable practices are frequently losing market share to innovative green product offerings.”
Graver says that the concept of green decking versus traditional timber was an easy business decision for him but that the company initially felt resistance from the industry who were reluctant to change practices due to a lack of awareness around the benefits of such green alternatives.
“Through intense research and product sourcing, it revealed how timber is fast becoming unsustainable, unmaintainable and ultimately expensive due to unjustifiable costs to maintain. But although I noticed a considerable gap in the market for a smarter option, it proved extremely tough to penetrate a market when no one had ever seen or heard of such innovative products.”
He adds that while eco-friendly products have now become the buzzword amongst South Africans and that the demand for green alternatives is increasing due to consumer awareness, business owners must still be mindful to the fact that the market might be hesitant to initially switch from their original purchase.
“It is imperative that green alternatives introduced remain competitive against the traditional markets. While customers want to be more environmentally friendly, the industry is still price sensitive compared to the traditional industry and a consumer will likely only select a green product if it provides a cost saving to the consumer.
“Our products, for example, are not only manufactured with recycled material, thereby providing sustainable benefits to climate change, but they also don’t have to be maintained which provides a cost saving throughout the lifecycle of the product.”
Botes says that while the trend of living a more eco-friendly existence is on the increase, it is still crucial for businesses to do sufficient research when entering a new market. “While entrepreneurs usually identify a problem or gap in the market where they are able to offer an alternate solution, it is crucial to ensure that this solution is integrated into a business plan that promotes the concept effectively and efficiently to the correct market.”