jan-2009-lgLouise Kennedy writes: I attended the recent Sustainable Brands Conference in London, which brought together brand marketers, strategists and sustainability experts to discuss the ways in which brands and businesses can help to shape a more sustainable world. The Futures Company is a media partner of the event.

Watching the presentations, I realised that it would be possible to distil them into a set of ‘Top Ten’ Principles that can help brands build a more sustainable world and unlock new sources of growth.

  1. Think beyond the environment

Sustainability isn’t just about the environment. Social, economic and environmental are considered the three interconnected pillars of sustainability, and brands need to be aware of all three.

  1. Know your audience

It’s important to know your target audience and what is driving them. Few people are driven directly by sustainability. Brands that are most successful appeal to what people really want (e.g. saving money, looking good) and align sustainable benefits with this.

  1. Imagine the future

Brands and businesses need to think about what the future might look like. Think about where your category and consumer might be in 5, 10 or even 20 years’ time and how your business and brand will need to adapt to be sustainable and profitable.

  1. Reinvent your business

The sustainability challenges facing the world are huge. To reach a sustainable world you can’t take baby steps. You need to understand the systemic changes required in your business models to drive holistic global change.

  1. Be disruptive

The familiar ideas probably won’t deliver what you need. So be brave and try to embrace unexpected solutions. Don’t be afraid to innovate in order to lead.

  1. Don’t do it alone

It’s not just important for brands and businesses to communicate internally to share knowledge and skills. You’re likely to need to build external partnerships to help you achieve your sustainability goals.

  1. Be true to your brand

The sustainability initiatives should never be divorced from the brand. They need to be woven intimately into the brand story, reflect the brand’s purpose and speak in its voice.

  1. Lose the design stereotypes

Dated stereotypical images and references are fast becoming, well, dated. Brown packaging may seem like a good indicator today, but how will this resonate in 2030 when sustainability has moved up a notch.

  1. Keep it simple

The world of sustainability isn’t always easy to engage with. So sustainability initiatives need to be easy to understand and easy to action. By changing the language of sustainability, you can open up new audiences.

  1. It’s alright to be wrong

There’s no exact science to developing successful sustainability initiatives, so brands don’t always get it right first time. But they can also bounce back from mistakes; after all, that’s how you learn. And it’s OK to talk about what you did wrong. It shows courage and character.

A longer version of this blog post will appear in the next issue of FutureProof, which is published later this month. The image of the quilted flowers at the top of the post comes from the blog ‘A Prairie Home Quilts‘, and is used with thanks.

2 thoughts on “Ten principles of sustainable branding

  1. Anne says:

    It’s exciting to see how at least some brands and businesses are approaching this with authenticity. How do we sort the differences between those that are authentic and those that are merely window dressing?

  2. It’s great that you mention authenticity because that’s a key problem within sustainable branding. Lots of brands adopt tenuous CSR initiatives and embark on one-off green campaigns because they feel they have to and forget to think about how this fits with their brand or what it will mean in the future for their business and the consumer.

    It isn’t easy to be a truly sustainable business but we all know that it comes from the inside out. Authentic sustainability comes from systemic business change internally that’s neatly woven into the fabric of the brand and communicated simply externally (in short!). Do remember that this isn’t meant to be easy and doesn’t happen overnight.

    However, without this sense of disruptive vision and commitment to change that consumers can see happening, brands run the risk of talking sustainably, but not really doing it properly. And it will show – consumers are savvy and superficial brands do get found out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *