Is durability a more sustainable selling point than sustainability?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/Tendo23
Nov 16, 2022

While surveys show that sustainability is important to consumers, the issue still has a long way before making it onto customers’ immediate priority lists, according to a study from Avery Dennison. Instead, the survey concludes that championing durability will likely do better in connecting consumers’ needs with the needs of the planet.

The survey of 7,500 consumers found just 16 percent putting sustainability in their top three considerations for buying products in beauty, apparel and food categories. Thirty percent put it in the top five. Even in apparel, where fast-fashion has been tagged as an environmental hazard, only 28 percent listed sustainability in the top five factors informing their future purchases.

By comparison, durability, or the desire for longer lasting products, was ranked by almost 30 percent of consumers as a top three concern and 48 percent as a top five concern. Among the top five most important factors when making a purchase, only quality, cited by 67 percent, and cost, 60 percent, ranked higher.

Avery Dennison further noted that durability is a key component in quality as well as cost since longer-lasting goods save the consumer money.

On durability’s eco-benefits, the study notes:

  • If a product lasts longer, it needs to be replaced less, meaning less waste — from workers and materials used to make it to the packaging waste at the end of its life. 
  • Products made to have a longer lifespan are more likely to be reused, recycled or upcycled.

The study stated, “This circular economy paradigm is a useful communication tool for consumers caught between a proverbial rock (cost of living concern) and hard place (climate change concern). There is an opportunity for brands to deliver on the promise of durability by framing their communications around a longer lifespan or second life.”

Beyond quality, cost and durability, other factors ranking higher among top-five purchase drivers than sustainability were availability, design, convenience, “makes me feel good” and brand reputation.

For firms, the study noted that optimizing sales will ultimately be required to support sustainability initiatives. Avery Dennison’s study said, “While businesses might talk about purpose over profit, when it comes to sustainable supply chain initiatives, profitability is still the driver.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Would emphasizing durability in messaging work more effectively to drive sustainable purchases than focusing on sustainability itself? Is sustainability messaging overhyped as a purchase driver?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Durability is wider than sustainability: it suggests products last (which is good for the environment) but it is also good for consumers’ pocketbooks and value perceptions."
"Durable is great on several levels, including value and sustainability. But I’m not sure “durable fashion” can be a thing. Sounds like an oxymoron to me."
"Producing less product and increasing product or material life has a sustainable outcome."

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17 Comments on "Is durability a more sustainable selling point than sustainability?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Durability is part of sustainability. Ultimately consumers will interpret these messages from their own point of view, but it doesn’t matter as long as we collectively reduce our environmental impact. There’s no doubt that sustainability has become an over-used and sometimes misused term but words don’t matter as much as action.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Consumers say sustainability is important, however people very rarely buy on sustainability alone. It is an add-on factor. The cherry on top of an already nicely iced cake. It cannot be the only or the main thing a retailer of brand offers. Durability is wider than sustainability: it suggests products last (which is good for the environment) but it is also good for consumers’ pocketbooks and value perceptions.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I would like to see “fashionable,” “trendy,” or “stylish” included in this type of poll. While we really don’t get the reality of what people do versus what they think, that may bring us closer to the truth.

Sustainability is clearly over-hyped as a driver. All one gets are the “right” answers. Durability might work for jeans or even sneakers, but advertising that durable t-shirt is weird.

Katie Thomas
BrainTrust

Great point, Gene. We actually asked about this in work we did on quality attributes. We asked consumers to rank, head-to-head, the following attributes regarding jeans: fit, comfort, style, durability, sustainability, brand, and price.

We found that consumers prioritized fit and comfort, followed closely by style and durability. Overall, leading with the functional priorities of the product, rather than sustainability, wins out for consumers.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Thanks, Katie. Yes, we must be careful to ask the right questions.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

My vote is with durability, as it is synonymous with both quality and sustainability in my mind — which can be somewhat warped, in the opinion of some. I always buy durable products, but some of my footwear is older than my children who were born well before the millennium. Anyway, with circular economy life extension widely available, for clothing in particular, durability can basically multiply an item’s sustainability factor. I’m all for it. By the way, price and free shipping will always be top of mind for online shoppers. Product availability ranks high, too. If you can’t buy it, durability doesn’t matter.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Durability is sustainability. Just ask Patagonia!

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Durability is a form of sustainability that consumers can directly experience so, yes, emphasizing it in messaging makes total sense. And yes, sustainability messaging is over-hyped but, more importantly, it’s also more abstract. It’s a rare consumer who fully understands end-to-end supply chains and the environmental impact of each link for every product they buy. Durability, on the other hand, is tangible, The counter argument, of course, is that we live in a disposable culture in which inherent obsolescence has replaced planned obsolescence as a primary design concept. Buy new technology and it’s not as good as the the technology you can buy next week. Have an iPhone 532 and you probably can’t wait for the 533 model. As a culture we’ve come to see everything as disposable and replaceable not just as a requirement but a desired outcome in our daily lives.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

We need to change the narrative and talk about outcomes of product durability and longevity. The environmental impact is how we should measure sustainability.

The outcomes of retail practices and product creation should be measured to better evaluate sustainability of a brand. If a product lasts longer, it is less likely to end up in a landfill. If brands reduce overbuying and overproduction, they will produce less product. Producing less product and increasing product or material life has a sustainable outcome.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I’m not sure this is a deep insight. Durability and the resale market live in the same universe, as Mark said, as a piece of sustainability.

But sorry kids, sustainability isn’t going away. The primary industry newsletter itself is in a panic over it on the luxury and fashion side. You still can’t put toxic dye in the water, still need to be better with cotton (which is having volume issues anyway due to lack of irrigation water), and still need to stop burning things.

Sustainability isn’t going away. It’s time to change.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Durable is great on several levels, including value and sustainability. But I’m not sure “durable fashion” can be a thing. Sounds like an oxymoron to me. Patagonia and Filson are in the durability business, not the fashion business. H&M and Zara are in the fashion business, not the durability business. Durable has to be about both life span of the garment and the life span of the attitude and aesthetic. I own Polo and Brooks Brothers shirts and Levi’s jeans that are over 20 years old. Durable garments with durable aesthetics, maybe matching my durable (staid?) view of self. Durable aesthetics are precisely what some customers do not want. They want fresh and new — every season. I guess if a garment can’t be durable, it would be great if it’s sustainable.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I own (and wear) a lot of apparel over 20 years old. That is what my wife complains about.

David Mascitto
BrainTrust

I would argue that we had durability a few decades ago, as according to The Wall Street Journal “American shoppers snap up about five times more clothing now than they did in 1980.” With the advent of fast fashion the cost of clothing decreased, but so did quality and durability — but that was the whole point! You buy more pieces of clothing that are essentially “disposable.” I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it too. They might be able to make fast fashion more sustainable than it is today (like making an internal combustion car more fuel efficient), but the very concept of fast fashion is at its core, unsustainable.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Yes — to a point — since the consumer can readily see the advantage to themself; and I think this is a good example of how looking at a problem more broadly, rather than the 30″ soundbite or “slogan of the week” approach can yield benefits.
The “to a point” part, though, reminds us this isn’t a cure all either: presumably both durable and sustainable is superior to either alone, and there are a huge number of products (like food) that have nothing to do with durability.

Brad Halverson
Guest

Durability really is part of sustainability, among other attributes and benefits. Durability is something nearly every consumer understands, and likely casts a wider net of interest. Sustainability isn’t going away, and will continue to hold popularity. But with durability, everyone can see and feel good craftsmanship, whether in how cars are made or what clothes have stitching and fabrics that last longer.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

A brand’s story is the most important selling point and one of its crucial components is “message.” So retailers must make sure they’re hitting the right chords with their messaging. In my opinion, fashion retailers must focus on sustainability instead of durability. Customers usually look for two aspects when making a purchase decision:
Brands following ethical sustainable practices while also offering trendy designs.Product assortment reflecting value for money.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

“Buy cheap or buy twice” — an old expression but when it comes to product durability, is very relevant. In a circular economy durability becomes more and more important but also in terms of overall environmental footprint. Persuading consumers to spend more money on more durable items can however be difficult. In this arena I love the example of washing machines where in the UK they can be purchased for around £200 but can range to as high as 10 times that price. In terms of life-span the cheaper models may last less time and hence have a much higher environmental cost.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Durability is wider than sustainability: it suggests products last (which is good for the environment) but it is also good for consumers’ pocketbooks and value perceptions."
"Durable is great on several levels, including value and sustainability. But I’m not sure “durable fashion” can be a thing. Sounds like an oxymoron to me."
"Producing less product and increasing product or material life has a sustainable outcome."

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