As December approaches, our minds naturally turn to shopping, whether for Christmas presents or vacation essentials, or just taking advantage of end-of-year sales on the latest fashion trends. Retailers around the world begin a period of intense trade that continues into the new year. It is at this time that it is imperative to be mindful of the twelfth UN Sustainable Development Goal, Responsible Consumption and Production. Our world is built on the exchange of goods and services, but for too long this has been carried out without thought for its consequences. Businesses around the world are already using Shared Value to contribute to the achievement of this often-forgotten goal.


The application of a top-down Shared Value strategy is evident in every aspect of American glasses manufacturer and retailer Warby Parker. At its core is a thorough rethinking of the previous way of doing things, a true reflection of what many have described as ‘business unusual’. With the eyewear industry controlled by a single company, prices had been drastically overinflated, putting this essential item out of the reach of millions. In fact, there are over 2 billion people around the world who need glasses but are unable to access them, or even basic eye testing. The founders of Warby Parker completely reconceived the way things could be done, redefining productivity in the eyewear value chain. They created a new way of making glasses, including vital prescription lenses, that could be sold at a fraction of their former price by circumventing traditional channels, removing the middle man and taking charge of their own supply chain.


With a passionate belief that ‘everyone has the right to see’ as the driving purpose of their business, Warby Parker has also distributed more than three million pairs of glasses to people in need through their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair programme. The programme also empowers men and women around the world by training them to administer basic eye exams and contracting them to sell glasses to their communities for ultra-affordable prices. This not only fills a basic and oft-neglected need, but has also expanded Warby Parker’s consumer base beyond those who have traditionally been able to afford glasses. They have also founded the Pupils Project, which works with local government agencies and other stakeholders to provide free vision screenings, eye exams, and glasses to schoolchildren across America.


Another company that is making strides in this area through the implementation of a Shared Value business model is SOKO. Based in Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya, this clothing manufacturing company is committed to sustainable production processes. Everything has been taken into account, from the design of their eco-friendly factory to the women they hire from one of the country’s most at-risk communities, uplifting them through the creation of sustainable, dignified employment.


Lalesso, a South African swimwear company based in Cape Town, keep social responsibility and environmental impact at the forefront of their business approach. Not only do they monitor the working conditions in the garment factories where their products are produced, they place an emphasis on the quality and footprint of the products themselves. Their swimwear is made from natural or recycled textiles, and all printing is done digitally to save water and minimise wastage. Every aspect of the business has been strategically crafted to have the greatest positive impact while also ensuring the maximisation of their profit. Lalesso’s purpose-driven Shared Value model has resulted in a sustainable benefit to the community, the environment, the consumer and, ultimately, their bottom line.


As consumers become more active and conscious about their purchases, it is incumbent on business to become more self-aware about its impact in order to survive. The Shared Value business model can be used to refocus business’s pursuit of profit and unlock new opportunities in all areas of the value chain, from conception, to production, all the way to consumption and beyond. The UN Sustainable Development Goals offer businesses a common language with which to focus their purpose, and in doing so contribute to the collective drive to make our world a better place for future generations.


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Image Source: Distilled Photography