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Business Advice

Create a climate for change

In light of the need for environmental protection, entrepreneurs should take the lead in changing mindsets for the better
ST701 Editorial Team - October 26, 2010
By: Sheila Lim
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Create a climate for change

An enterprising woman in England has gone into the business of supplying customised cardboard coffins and marketing them online. I personally think it is a brilliant idea, and hope it will take off all over the world. After all, if you think about it, there’s really no sense in being sent off in an exceedingly expensive coffin that in most cases will be turned into ash anyway!

Death has always been a taboo subject involving a fair number of customary rites. However, as with many social mores and cultural practices, people’s perceptions of it have changed over time.

In light of the need for environmental protection, entrepreneurs should emulate the aforementioned British coffin supplier and take the lead in changing mindsets for the better. Many have done so already, and hopefully, more will follow suit to make a meaningful impact on the ways we use natural resources and manage waste.

In doing so, they may also find for themselves fresh sources of revenue from unexplored marketing opportunities. 

Changing mindsets, curbing bad habits
Socio-cultural customs and practices dictate and influence consumer behaviour and shopping habits. However, bad habits can always be discouraged and less environmentally damaging ones cultivated.

Here’s an example to illustrate this point:

While holidaying in Europe years ago, I got reprimanded by a fruit vendor in Switzerland for picking out some plums from among the batches displayed at his stall. Later on, I encountered a similar experience in a café in Venice when I tarried in picking out ice cream from the chiller. What I didn’t realise at that time was that I had committed a “social faux pas”. Most Europeans food vendors take pride in ensuring that the quality of their produce is of a high standard, so customers aren’t allowed to “manhandle” food items. 

In Asian societies, however, customers often have the habit of squeezing and poking perishables to pick out the “best” of the lot. This results in foodstuff being spoilt and a high volume of “write-offs” for the business owner. This is one of the reasons why most supermarkets pre-pack food items in plastic containers (the costs of which are factored into the retail price). The plastic containers are then dumped practically unsoiled. 

Changing long-entrenched behaviour is challenging; but possibilities exist, as we’ve seen in the ways business organisations like 3M, Apple and Food Junction have introduced radical product concepts and transformed lifestyle habits by infiltrating the marketplace through creative marketing strategies and consumer education.

Waste less, save more
Business owners and consumers shouldn’t just keep complaining about the rising costs of running a business and escalating prices, but be pro-active in bringing about changes in the way we market and consume goods, and contributing towards sustainable economic and social growth. 

The drive for sustainable economic growth doesn’t necessarily entail making hefty investments in state-of-the-art technology, such as installing solar panels and designing green buildings.

Every entrepreneur can contribute towards sustainable development in simple ways, such as inculcating in employees and customers habits pertaining to the responsible use of resources or making a conscious effort to choose more ecologically-friendly packaging options. 

Here are some simple ways of reducing waste, lowering costs and saving the environment:

    Reduce the indiscriminate use of plastic ware. Many food vendors now dispense plastic utensils with takeaway food whether customers need them or not. What they could do instead is to display signs informing customers to ask for the utensils should they require them.

    Do away with unnecessary packaging or find alternative ways to present or hold your products. For instance, many fast food chains have now done away with foam boxes and provide sauces in dispensers instead of individual packs.    

    Except for confidential and important documents, companies should refrain from despatching correspondence such as newsletters, letters and general notices to staff in envelopes. We would do well to emulate organisations like the Nature Society (Singapore), which has been collecting used envelopes and sending their members newsletters in them.

    Allocate collection centres for used envelopes which can then be reused for internal correspondence, and for pre-paid envelopes which can also be recycled.

    Spend wisely rather than splurge in good times and go on “austerity drives” during lull periods. For example, give some thought to the types of corporate souvenirs/door gifts you present to clients and employees. Are they necessary, and do they serve any useful purpose? Could the money be spent in better ways? Most people don’t know what to do with the umpteenth mug, mouse pad or umbrella received, but they would surely appreciate a voucher that is redeemable for consumable products or useful services.

Every bit counts. If organisations make a concerted effort to integrate environment conservation goals with their business interests, they could literally help to change the world.


The Search for Success