The secret of sustainable branding
Sustainability is here to stay. This is the only certainty, all the rest is fluid, because sustainability is a fast changing continuum.
Not many years ago most companies had very little knowledge about the topic and no strategy to embark on the challenge of sustainability adaptation. The early adopters were able to set the rules of the game in many different sectors. Then a global crisis started. Credit crunch, scarcity of resources, energy and economic crisis, high unemployment rate caused priorities to shift, but nevertheless, the awareness that sustainability is going to stay has put down roots.
Let’s be honest. This does not mean that it is enough to offer a product with a lower environmental impact when trying to break into the market. Consumers are not buying a product only because of its sustainability performance, and not many will pay more for it. Some will, the majority won’t. Statistics show a high percentage of consumers are interested in sustainability, but if we look deep within ourselves we know there is a big gap between what we think a good behavior would be and the way we actually behave. We may affirm that we care about the environment and that sustainability drives our shopping attitude, but once we are standing in front of the supermarket shelf, we often make different choices. We buy products on the basis of benefits that are tangible to us, that make our life easier, nicer, better, more interesting. Sustainability is going to become a necessary feature for products, but will it become as important as others like quality, price, color, shape, the order and combination of which determine the personality of the product?
Still, among different products with similar benefits, there is certainly a higher chance we will choose the ones with a lower environmental impact. Of course, there are many other reasons for a company to choose a sustainable path, such as improved efficiency, reduction of waste, improved synergies, and time-saving, all of which often lead to cost savings and higher profitability, but also for ethical reasons, social responsibility, reputation.
What’s the secret of all those successful companies with high environmental performance? There is certainly a relationship between sustainability and success, but it is not a causal one; you won’t be successful simply because you have an environmental strategy in place. What kind of relationship is it, how can companies compete in this uncertain world, and how can sustainability better express itself?
Creativity and culture are the answer.
Sustainability means that you can’t just do whatever you like, it implies accepting boundaries and rules, which can either discourage you or stimulate your visionary spirit. It’s like the nine dots puzzle. Draw nine dots aligned in a set of three rows. Without lifting your pen, connect all dots with four continuous lines. The only way to do it is by thinking beyond the perimeter of the square in our mental boundaries. Think creatively, change perspective, observe without prejudice. Think lateral, think divergent, oblique, intersecting, let your ideas ramify and you will find unexpected solutions.
Your boundaries could be within your organization; rethink communication, research new technologies, find new ways of recycling your waste, improve communication among departments. Your boundaries could also be the gates of your factory; see beyond and look for upstream and downstream improvements, rethink the materials you use, join efforts with your supply chain, optimize distribution.
Enable your employees to do the same, empower them, and make sustainability become part of your company and your products’ DNA. A sustainable behavior needs a cultural shift, facilitate it. Create products with a reduced environmental impact, making sustainable behavior easy for people, so that they will become part of a daily routine. Make them accessible and affordable, make them fun and people will welcome them into their lives.
Figure out what your main boundaries are, that’s where you should start.
Environmental communicator and sustainability paths expert at 2B Srl
Beatrice Bortolozzo is a co-founder of 2B Srl (SimaPro partner in Italy). She specializes in sustainability paths, Social-LCA, Life Cycle Thinking and sustainability communication. She loves innovative thinking, sustainably creative experiences and has a passion for books, studying foreign languages, and cycling in the countryside.