Product longevity and commercial sustainability

Focusing on durability drives both sustainability and commercial gains. We examine why opting for recycled products is not the only answer.

Climate change is nothing new. But the level and intensity of major environmental incidents are reaching a crisis point.  The past couple of years have seen the deforestation of one of our largest climate change buffers, the Amazon rainforest; weather chaos across much of the world; and the unprecedented flooding of Death Valley1.

It is clear that now, more than ever before, it’s time for real change, and that businesses need to be the driving force of these changes. But where should your business be focusing its efforts and investments? How does the business community avoid simply ‘greenwashing’?

RCP recently undertook a global research initiative to gather data on where businesses are struggling to couple ideas with action on sustainability, what they see as future challenges to implementation and what they need in order to start improving operational and systemic sustainability. The resultant report shares invaluable insights and gives businesses some practical recommendations to improve their own sustainability.




Working together, businesses have the power to make systemic, impactful change. However, a staggering 95% of businesses2 identify that there is much work still to be done, with the key areas for investment into sustainability 3 being waste management (81%), recycling (60%), sustainable materials (60%) and energy efficiency (58%). So, how should businesses prioritise and ensure that they are making the right sustainable choices and investing in genuinely sustainable practices?



A highly pertinent finding from the report highlights the number one issue4 businesses cite as a barrier to improving sustainability: a lack of sustainable products.

When considering what makes a product sustainable, those made from recycled materials are often the first port of call. However, it is not actually always recycled products that are the most sustainable choice.  When it comes to ‘sustainable products’ it’s all about durability, buying better and wasting less.  After all, 96% of the global warming potential of a recycling container, for example, is during production.5



Another challenge for many comes when factoring in the needs and aims of the business, its shareholders and its customers – ensuring both sustainability and commerciality are prioritised. This focus on commerciality has only increased in recent times due to the current economic situation.

80% of businesses agree that rising costs and inflation6 are the most significant challenges they face in the coming years. For 60% of businesses the perceived investment and increase in ongoing costs for more sustainable practices is cited as a barrier to implementation. However, in a positive shift in perception, 74% disagreed that more sustainable products cost more.7



Further, businesses need to understand that reducing consumption over ‘green’ purchasing will result not only in significant sustainability gains but financial ones too. Extending the lifecycle of passive products (products that do not require energy usage, or supplementary materials during their life cycle) reduces environmental impact by up to 72% and reduces commercial cost by up to a third.8

Let’s take an example. You’re going to replace the waste containers in your facility. Your choice is to opt for a brand new, freshly manufactured container or go for one made from recycled material. You might assume that a container made from recycled material is the more sustainable option. However, when we make our purchasing decisions we need to take into consideration where that recycled material has come from, the ecological cost of its remanufacturing and its durability. Often, recycled materials suffer degradation over time9 and need remanufacturing sooner. Once you recycle plastic, it has to be recycled more often as the resulting products don’t last as long.  This starts an endless cycle of increasing resource use. So, considering the product longevity and material origins of each container, opting for a brand-new waste container that is built to last is actually the more sustainable choice here.

That’s not to say that recycled materials aren’t a valuable part of a circular economy. But the key is in investing in products that last decades and reducing overall consumption, which will in turn see system efficiency improve and your business reap better financial rewards in the long-term. That’s not all. Once businesses no longer use energy and money unnecessarily remanufacturing products, they can invest better in innovation, which in the long-term drives even better sustainability. Find out more about The RCP Sustainability Journey and download the Why Product Longevity is a Powerful First Step to Improving Commercial Sustainability Report to read more.



  1. RCP Why Product Longevity is a Powerful First Step to Improving Commercial Sustainability Report  Report – 2023
  2. RCP Research – Question 8
  3. RCP Research – Question 10
  4. RCP Research – Question 15
  5. Global Warming Potential from Production (section 4.2.2)
  6. RCP Research – Question 6
  7. RCP Research – Question 25
  8. The Benefits of Extending Passive Products Lifespans
  9. Material Degradation in Recycling Processes (section 3.1)
  10. RCP Research – Question 25
  11. RCP Research – Question 25

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