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CSR and Sustainability

Six important things to remember about sustainable branding

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Henk Campher has a new short eBook out called “Creating a Sustainable Brand: A Guide to Growing the Sustainability Top Line”.

I posed five questions for him, the responses are below.

1) Briefly, what’s the book about?

The changes experienced in sustainability over the last ten years or so have been nothing but phenomenal.

More and more companies have embraced the need to act more responsibly and manage their impacts.

What started as ‘doing less harm’ has turned into bottom line benefits as companies have found new ways to match managing the triple bottom line with shaving costs off the business bottom line.

But you don’t cut yourself into growth and growth is the bread and butter of companies. Brand today are looking for the holy grail of sustainable business — a fusion of products and branding that can actually drive sustainability and grow the business top line.

Consumers have already joined the party.

Just look at TOMS, Patagonia, Method, Seventh Generation, Dove and many more. What is missing isn’t the consumer but a better understanding of what fully-rounded consumers really want in their quest for a healthy, fulfilling life.

This book develops a model for creating a sustainable brand that people can trust, buy and above all, advocate for. Of course not all brands are the same and not all products are born equal.

2) Surely there’s no such thing as a sustainable brand, there are only more sustainable companies. Do you agree or disagree?

I would obviously disagree or else I wouldn’t have written the book! What a company “does” is fundamental to sustainability and I emphasize that in the book. However, what a company or product stands for is as crucial to the success of the company as the actual creation of the product and sustainability of the company.

I don’t want to get lost in nuanced semantics but I would argue that a sustainable company is dependent on having sustainable products/services etc that consumers actually want to buy, support and advocate.

A bland product that no consumer wants will kill a company no matter how sustainable the company is – just as green washing on the opposite side of the coin can damage a company. In this book the model I create builds towards a better understanding of a sustainable brand – the intersection between product AND brand.

A (more) sustainable brand requires a product to be more sustainable in how it is created as well as the impact of the product once made, and for sustainability to become part of the brand value proposition – how it comes to life in the brand.

Of course there is no moment of perfection as we are dealing with sustainability, but the model guides the analyses and creation of a sustainable brand via these two key elements – product sustainability and sustainability branding. It is when these two elements dance in harmony that the consumer will come out to play, buy, support and advocate.

One other way to explain it – the product or company side is the arms, legs, hair, eyes etc of a human. But that doesn’t tell you anything about me the person. You do not date someone because that person breathes and don’t break laws and have many different “bits”.

You find out who they are, what makes them tick, whether you share something of interest etc.

You try to figure out if you can move beyond the physical part of the person to an emotion connection. The brand is how move you from seeing all my “bits” to caring about what the person stand for and their “meaning”. Or else they are nothing but a breathing bunch of molecules.

3) Sustainability is all in the product supply chain in terms of the impact brands can have, discuss…

It goes beyond the narrow definition of supply chain. I can create a supply chain where I pay farmers a premium, help them diversify, bring in Fair Trade, manufacture in a unionized factory with the best paid and happiest workers in the world and all the other good stuff needed. I can create the most sustainable supply chain but still not have a sustainable product.

Why? Because I can do all that and still create a cigarette. So in the model I create I look at both how a product is created as well as the actual impact of the product itself. That will determine the level of sustainability in the product. But that only covers one part sustainability – the making and impact part. As important is what it stand for – to make consumers care.

A brand is how that comes to life for the consumer/customer. In the model I look at how sustainability is embedded in the brand as well as how it comes to life as the other part of the sustainable brand equation – the interplay between product sustainability throughout the whole value chain and how sustainability comes to life in a brand. This means that a product value chain (beyond a narrower supply chain definition) is only one part of the impact a brand can have.

It also needs to change consumer behavior to pick the product above the more unsustainable product – in there lies a sustainable brand. We need to make consumer care about the sustainability in the product and we do that through sustainability branding. When we have these two in place – then we have a sustainable brand.

4) Sustainability has been more about comms and less about substance for most companies, where is this different, and why? 

I haven’t experienced this in working with companies.

I would say that the failure is on two sides. Yes, on the one side we have companies who create products and then make claims that just doesn’t add up – green washing or whatever kind of “washing” you want to call it.

But the opposite is just as true – companies go so deep into following the latest GRI guidelines or develop the best sustainability strategy consultant can sell them and then still fail because no one is buying their products. Why? Because they forget that consumers are not these simple animals who will buy whatever are offered to them.

Sustainability is just one of many brand value propositions they might be interested in after price and quality. To be truly successful you need both – a product of substance and a brand that brings sustainability to life for the consumer/customer in a way that resonates with them and will change their behavior.

And, of course, the book is exactly aimed at answering this question via the model I develop!

5) If I remember three things from this book, what should they be? 

I see your 3 and raise you a few…

1. Not all brand are born equal – some are by nature more sustainable than others
2. Brand fail when they ignore weaknesses and oversell perceived strengths
3. A sustainable brand is defined by how the product and brand interact and combine
4. Product sustainability must include both the supply chain impact as well as the inherent value of the product itself
5. Sustainability branding must include both the way a brand connects with the consumer and how it aligns with sustainability
6. The Sustainable Brand Model allows a brand to find its unique sustainable brand value proposition & identify areas of weaknesses.

Readers can get a 15% discount by using Campher15 in the voucher section here.