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CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS

To sell more products and attract young employees, get (and advertise) a social conscience

New York-based eyewear company Warby Parker, which contributes a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair it sells, announced last week that it had donated its millionth pair of eyeglasses. One million pairs donated means Warby Parker has sold as many pairs since its launch in 2010, and consumers bought half of those glasses in the last year.

Research suggests that the company’s social mission helps sell those glasses—and that other businesses can similarly boost their sales by taking a similar approach.

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Nice glasses.

Nielsen researchers found that companies with social responsibility or environmental sustainability claims on their packaging showed a 2% average annual sales increase from the year before. Companies with mission-related marketing efforts beyond the packaging—think Warby Parker or Toms shoe company, which recently launched an entire marketplace of such products—showed 5% growth, compared with just 1% for brands without any public stance on corporate social responsibility.

More than half of 30,000 consumers surveyed in 60 different countries (pdf) said they were willing to pay more money for a product or service from a company with a commitment to positive social or environmental impact. That portion—55%, to be exact—is consistently climbing. In 2012, half of shoppers said they’d shell out more money to a conscientious company, and in 2011 just 45% did.

chartbuilder response to sustainable companies, by age
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While the willingness to pay more for those products is growing worldwide, it’s highest in emerging markets. North America and Europe are the lowest on the charts.

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In an op-ed in the Business of Fashion, Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal pointed out another great benefit for companies with a strong social mission: attracting great employees. Young, talented people really want to work at Warby Parker (despite a human relations “cultural swat team” that sounds vaguely elitist and annoying).

“The only way to stay in business (let alone grow a business) is to recruit and retain top talent.” Blumenthal wrote. “To attract the brightest stars, companies will increasingly need to walk the walk when it comes to social innovation.”

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