3 fundamentals for building a sustainable brand
Building a sustainable brand is no mean feat and requires considered thinking across the entire business. Though there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to building a sustainable brand, there are some fundamental principles that we’ve identified to help you get it right.
1. Build the right community
Building a sustainable brand isn’t simply a branding and communications exercise. Having a compelling proposition, consistently communicated across channels to all stakeholders is just the start.
To be a truly sustainable brand, a company needs to foster its relationships to build the right culture. Internally, this means shaping a consistent employee value proposition. Externally, companies should form partnerships with relevant charities and NGOs, ensure relationships with investors align to its sustainability proposition and encourage engagement and participation among customers.
A brand that embodies community is Everlane – a fashion brand in California. Its sustainable brand is built around principles of ‘radical transparency’ with the aim of helping its millennial and Gen-Z consumers make smart purchase choices and reduce consumption. Each year, when other brands heavily promote Black Friday, Everlane closes both its physical and online stores. Everlane recognises that being part of Black Friday contradicts everything it stands for, so instead uses this day to reinforce its brand position to stakeholders.
2. Deliver on your promises
One of the most important things a company can do is deliver on its promises to stakeholders.
Whether it’s to ‘bring health through food to as many people as possible’ (Danone) or ‘make sustainable living commonplace’ (Unilever). Sustainable brands make a promise to society which requires them to conduct themselves in a certain way. This spans across all aspects of the business, including relationships with stakeholders, interactions with the media, how it treats employees and, perhaps most importantly, how it steers and grows its business. Making decisions that move away from an initial commitment can result in significant brand damage.
Oatly once enjoyed a cult-like following, built upon its strong commitment to sustainability and demands for systemic changes in how business is conducted. When it accepted investment from private equity fund Blackstone, often linked to deforestation, the Trump administration and generally viewed as an unsustainable investorOatly’s customers felt that the brand had ‘sold out’ to big investors to grow the business, with little regard for the planet, society and what the brand appeared to stand for.
3. Be proactive, show up and take the lead
Sustainable brands align themselves to and make promises around key societal and environmental issues.
Aspiring sustainable brands need to be aware of any prevalent issues that they are aligned to – this will ultimately drive better outcomes and allow them to engage in the relevant stakeholder communities. Following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Danone is currently calling on EU policymakers to build a Common Food Policy to maintain the efficiency of the food supply chain. Also, Patagonia has established The Earth Law Centre to ‘…transform laws, economies, policies and governance systems to recognize the inherent rights of all earth’s inhabitants and ecosystems to coexist, thrive and evolve.
In times of crisis, sustainable brands get the opportunity to show up and step up. A great example was during the pandemic – a time when health workers, among others, were stretched beyond their limits. With their outlets in close proximity to hospitals, Pret A Manger was first off the mark to offer free and reduced price products to NHS workers which saw other food outlets follow suit.
Sustainable brands are ‘always on’. Being aware of societal and environmental issues – they deliver on their promises and act in times of change. In the absence of crisis, they are still proactive. Sustainable brands drive change, set the agenda and lend their time to causes through expertise, resources and influence.
If you’d like to learn more about building a sustainable brand, please contact Keith Taylor on [email protected]
Article co-authored by Claire Stuart, Director of Brand, Keith Taylor, Director of Brand and Sue Francis, Senior Consultant – Sustainability