How to reach sustainable brands

At a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has declared a “red alarm” for humanity due to increasig climate change, which we can directly feel more and more, the issue of sustainability is not only becoming an imperative, but also an obligation for all of us, especially if we consider future generations. The latest IPCC report clearly states, along with a handful of scientific evidence, that the negative impact of humanity on the climate is an indisputable fact. When we look at the consequences of these changes, but also numerous other environmental problems, it becomes clear that it is necessary to involve everyone in solving the problem, from individuals to countries.

How important the role of brands and companies is in this matter becomes clear if we look at the two types of impact they have – the impact on the environment and society due to the activities they perform, but also the impact on consumers, especially loyal ones who follow their favorite brands. Because of that it is important that brands turn as much as possible to sustainable practices. Consumers, especially younger ones, expect brands to engage in sustainable activities. A survey by McCann Truth Central (Truth About Youth, 2015) found that 81% of people globally believe that brands can have a greater impact on positive change than states and governments. As many as 90% of young people in Serbia believe that socially responsible activities should be part of the business of any serious brand, while about 75% of them say they are more willing to buy a brand that invests in CSR, which is not surprising given the desire of young people to the ones that change the world for the better (75% of young people feel a responsibility to make the world a better place for generations to come and are willing to fight for higher goals if the result is visible).

How brands and companies deal with the issue of sustainability is a crutial question, usually there are no shortcuts, so it’s not enough to put an “eco” or “bio” label on your product, it’s more important what steps you take to get to that label. In order to achieve real and substantial transformation for sustainable business and products, it is important that brands and companies are guided by the following principles:

Integration

The way sustainability is approached within the brand itself is crucial. Sustainability should not be seen as an additional task, although today it is still to some extent the case, but as a value and cultural transformation that should become part of what the brand represents. From the perspective of the brand itself, this means putting sustainability at the center of business models, leadership, culture, strategy, but also striving to have the right capacities, people and partnerships focused on this issue that can bring about this transformation. From a product and service perspective, this means finding circular solutions that take into account the origin, production, distribution, use, recycling or reuse of a product during and after its life cycle.

Relevance

When it comes to sustainability, there is no universal solution. In order for the transformation into a sustainable way of doing business or towards a sustainable product to be relevant and purposeful, it is important to consider their impacts on the environment and society. Preventing or at least mitigating these impacts should be a priority for any brand or company. Other types of activities related to sustainability can be useful, but only when the issue of primary impacts has already been resolved. Consumers are increasingly recognizing campaigns or activities whose purpose is only to promote sustainable topics, without relevant background. This type of communication, which is often opportunistic and aims to follow a trend, called “greenwashing”, can often result in consumer dissatisfaction, which can end with a boycott of the brand or company.

Transparency

It is more and more evident that sustainability should be the future of most, if not all brands, those that apply transparency with their goals, processes, but also the current state of affairs when it comes to sustainability (even if not everything is “green”) will gain an advantage because this will ultimately result in greater consumer confidence. Transparency can be a simple thing, such as honest and credible communication, more involved like developing plans to resolve potential crises, or very detailed like creating new IT systems through which consumers can track products in the supply chain.

For the application of these principles, it does not matter whether it is a small brand or a multinational company. While the impacts of large companies are incomparably greater, it is encouraging to see small brands incorporating sustainability into their business from day one. We can only hope that these will one day be the big brands of tomorrow.