Sustainability In Business: Examples from Industry Leaders

How Sustainability Is Driving Innovation and Competitive Advantage in Business: Insights from Patagonia and Other Industry Leaders
April 17, 2023
4 minutes

It’s no secret that sustainability plays a critical role in business, ensuring that companies operate in a way that is environmentally, socially, and economically responsible. Business leaders face ever-increasing pressure from employees, customers, and investors alike to act decisively on environmental issues.

The result? Leading industrial companies are actively employing innovative sustainability practices, resulting in real competitive advantages. Just look at Patagonia! In 2012, the ethical fashion company used an overwhelmingly successful sustainability-focused marketing strategy – “buy less” – to the tune of a $543 million sales increase, and 14 new stores.


Many businesses have successfully implemented sustainable business practices with strong ESG frameworks that can definitely be used as an inspiration for all of us. Here are 3 leading companies that have taken steps towards implementing sustainable business practices.


Crafting recyclable furniture and forest stewardship are just two ways in which IKEA is working to achieve its climate-positive goal. They heavily promote circularity which means that products being sold is being produced from the waste material of the previously sold products. Today, the company is allowing customers to return previously purchased items. In exchange for their returns, customers receive a voucher that they can use to buy other IKEA products.

“We have configured our stores to have a dedicated space to resell the products we take back and the products we use in our showrooms. We’re trying to make sure that nothing goes to waste. The interest from customers has been phenomenal,” Jesper Brodin, CEO of IKEA owner Ingka Group, said in an interview with the World Economic Forum. 

IKEA would then either resell, recycle, or donate the returned item to give it a second life. IKEA has recently announced that they’ll be switching their lightning range from regular lightbulbs to LED. LEDs are energy-efficient bulbs that typically use 85% less energy.


Lastly, Ikea announced a Circular Economy Partnership with Ellen MacArthur Foundation. By aligning forces, IKEA hopes to propel its commitment to become fully circular by 2030. The result? The company has decreased its carbon footprint, ensured that 80% of its products sold are designed for circularity managed to assemble 60% of its products with renewable materials.

Airbus additive manufacturing: Manufacture lighter planes with 3D printing

To effectively use 3D printers Airbus partnered with Materialise, a Belgium-based technology company that specializes in additive manufacturing. The eco-conscious company managed to speed up the manufacturing of parts compared to traditional molding techniques.


The result? a) cheaper manufacturing due to effective use of raw materials and time reduction of production b) enables the manufacturing of lighter parts by up to 45%, resulting in lighter planes that burn less fuel. In fact, this tech can reduce an A320 plane’s annual GHG emissions by around 465,000 metric tons.


This is equivalent to the elimination of 100,000 automobiles from the road for a year.

Patagonia “Buy Less”

Patagonia has released a number of ads promoting the "Buy Less" message, including a famous ad that featured the tagline "Don't buy this jacket." The ad encouraged customers to think twice before making a purchase and to consider the environmental impact of their consumption. Also, the company offers repair services for its products, which encourages customers to use their products for as long as possible, rather than buying new ones.


Lastly, Patagonia's Worn Wear program encourages customers to buy and sell used Patagonia products. This seemingly counterintuitive move managed to drive a $543 million sales increase and help them open 14 new stores – all because of sustainability!

Conclusion: Sustainability in Business

One thing is certain: Sustainability is closely aligned with business success! As we previously mentioned, by implementing sustainable practices such as using energy and resources more efficiently, reducing waste, and improving supply chain efficiency, businesses can reduce costs and save money.


Additionally, by prioritizing sustainability, businesses can improve their reputation and brand value, which can lead to increased customer loyalty and sales. And if you consider that, on a global scale, the majority of consumers (85%) have shifted to shopping more sustainably over the past five years, the right path is pretty obvious.