Acting Like a Leader: The Art of Sustainable Sustainability

Sustainable Life Media Jez Frampton discusses how sustainability and brand leadership cooperate to increase brand value for the businesses that take advantage of them.  Additionally, he relates how sustainability and brands are related to consumer behavior by providing the consumer with rational and emotional choices.

Jez Frampton Posted July 09

By Jez Frampton, Sustainable Life Media

Brands contribute to the sustainability movement by creating
demand for products and services that people need and that are also
responsible. There is a real opportunity for brands to lead the
movement. While many companies understand the moral pay off of
investing in this, what they may not realize is that incorporating
sustainability as a business practice will also increase brand value
and guarantee a long life for the business.

Sustainability and Brand

These days, the word “sustainability” is overused and applied to
everything from cars to economics to agriculture. It is everywhere – in
magazines, newspapers, corporate brochures, and on the front and back
of consumer packaging. And yet, while most of us would associate
sustainability with the green movement and being environmentally
virtuous, many would have a hard time coming up with a definitive
definition for the word.

“Sustainability” and “brand” have a lot in common. For instance,
careful examination of the two concepts reveals that, like brand,
sustainability is centered on the notion of building and maintaining
value. Brands build value and contribute to a business’s economic
growth by influencing and driving consumer choice. Sustainability also
builds and maintains value – namely that of the earth’s resources,
although, as we have seen over recent years, it is increasingly
associated with building value for a business.

Brands and sustainability have something else in common: a unique
relationship with behavior. When sustainability first entered the
lexicon in 1987, with the publication of the report titled “Our Common
Future” by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and
Development, it was defined as “…development that meets the needs of
the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs.” In other words, behave fairly, don’t take more
than your share, and put back what you use. This is easier said than
done. As consumers we are used to making day-to-day choices based on
what we want and need at that moment. Sustainability is a complex
notion that demands we radically change our behavior in a real and
meaningful way – to consider our individual actions as part of a
sustainable whole.

Brands are also directly related to behavior. Rather than ask
consumers to change their behavior, brands influence behavior through
informing the choices we make on both rational and emotional levels.
This is how they derive their value. By providing specific
contributions to purchase decisions, brands can influence choice and
secure ongoing customer demand. If brands contribute to the
sustainability movement – however we define it – in a visible and
demonstrative way, it is by creating demand for products and services
that people need and that are also responsible. They are a unique
mechanism to generate lasting change affecting both attitudes and
behaviors. That’s why, in regard to sustainability, there is a real
opportunity for brands to lead the movement. While many companies
understand the moral pay off of investing in this, what they may not
realize is that incorporating sustainability as a business practice
will also increase brand value and guarantee a long life for the
business.

Sustainability and Brand Value: a Changing Landscape

A changing landscape demands that businesses weave sustainability
into their practices. This is because sustainability, as it is defined
today, is not sustainable. This does not mean it is going away. Rather,
quite the opposite – it will be something all businesses take into
account in the future.

The pressure to create ethical products has not only come from
consumers, but also from peers. Already, in recent years, business
leaders have taken charge by incorporating sustainability into the
fabric of their brands. Today, as a result of these leaders, the entire
landscape has shifted. We’re beginning to create more awareness in the
consumer’s mind about the need for businesses to be sustainable.

Increased awareness has caused many businesses to implement CSR
programs and sustainability initiatives without fully understanding
their meaning and value. And yet, while it may seem like a whole lot of
noise right now, as awareness increases, more businesses are being held
accountable by public expectations and government regulations. A line
between those who are sustainable and those who are not will become
very clear. Those that have simply “greenwashed” – said but not done –
will be identified immediately and cast out, not just by environmental
groups, but by the general public as well. We’ll increasingly see
sustainability becoming a table stake rather than a differentiator. It
will become ingrained in the fabric of how all companies do business;
they will not be able to do without it.

That’s why it is so important to craft a distinctive, relevant, and
lasting sustainable proposition that will differentiate your brand.
Look at GE,
a brand that has a sustainable proposition that has added value to its
brand. Whether it is engaging employees with its “Energy Treasure
Hunt,” or partnering with Abu Dhabi to build the world’s first
carbon-neutral, zero-waste city completely powered by renewable energy,
GE leads by consistently doing the right thing in a way that is right
for its brand and industry. Look at McDonald’s,
which, far ahead of its competitors, has identified its specific
challenges – like the impact of its litter on the world – and created
plans to tackle them. Both of these companies have realized that real
behavioral change does not come from reporting carbon emissions and
showing transparency. Real behavioral change occurs when products and
services are made the vehicle to deliver the message.

So take a clear leadership stance and begin creating a
sustainability strategy that is right for your brand and your industry.
Do the right thing and do it well – not just because it is a moral
obligation, but because it is the best investment you can make in your
business.

__________

Jez Frampton is the Group Chief Executive at Interbrand.
He leads the Interbrand network, shaping strategy and growth for its 36
worldwide offices and enhancing its brand value generating services to
a prestigious roster of clients.

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