Win-win-win sustainable business models

Cooperative strategies, where organisations bundle their expertise’s to create positive outcomes, are becoming more important to tackle sustainability challenges, which cross company boundaries. They are about creating synergies and ‘win-win’ situations.

‘Win-win-win’ sustainable business models create advantages to at least three different types of groups, for example, manufacturers, retailers and consumers, while positively contributing to the environment and society.

A few examples of win-win-win business models include: product refill business models, sharing business models, and more specifically, second-hand clothing collection and sales at retail, and concentrated cold-water laundry detergent.

Collaborative activities may include:

  • Manufacturers and retailers jointly develop and pilot test low carbon footprint business models such as refillable products.
  • Coordinated packaging and in-store promotions can educate consumers about their “win”. For example, store promotions can show the cost saving of reusing packaging. Manufacturers might print the environmental benefits of reusing packaging on the label.


Product refill business models in stores 

Product refill business models include packaged consumer products that can be directly refilled and reused after use and reduced-material refill pouches. There may be financial incentives, such as discounts on the next purchase or a free product after a certain number of refills, to stimulate packaging reuse.

In a broad sense, reusable grocery bags may be viewed as a “refill product”, especially when supermarkets give store credits to incentivise reuse.


  • Manufacturer-win: recurring customers, engagement with sustainability
  • Retailer-win: Generates traffic to the store, one successful refill model can pave the way for more refillable products
  • Consumer-win: may save cost, reduces waste, in some cases, allows consumers to (re)use the containers they prefer.
  • Sustainability-win: material reuse, waste reduction, consumer education



Companies who have done this or still do this include: The BodyShop, WholeFoods (US Grocery store), Kiehl’s (premium skincare), Ecover (eco-cleaning), and “Unpackaged”, a UK ‘organic refill grocery’.


The concept of “win-win-win business models” is introduced in the following article:

Bocken, N., Allwood, J. 2012. Strategies to reduce the carbon footprint of consumer goods by influencing stakeholders. Journal of Cleaner Production, 35, 118-129. 


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