Sustainability – An Integral Part of Your Brand Strategy?
In our series about branding, we’ve delved into such topics as naming a brand, intercultural branding, and how to foster brand loyalty. This week, we’re discussing how sustainability has become important for businesses to stay competitive and relevant.
Over the past decade or so, sustainability has become a hot issue. What started as mostly PR moves and a shifting trend among businesses looking to appeal to environmentally friendly consumers has turned into an indispensable facet of brand building.
Now, in order to stay competitive, businesses and organizations have to implement green initiatives and sustainability tactics. Furthermore, ignoring sustainability has the potential to crush a brand, destroy trust, and collapse a business.
Over the years, sustainability and green initiatives transformed from something organizations did to pander to environmentalists to something designed to give back to the community.
A Lack of Transparency
When brands attempt to establish sustainable initiatives they need to determine a strategy that positions them correctly. To illustrate, take BP, who several years ago installed solar panels onto the roofs of its gas stations.
While yes, this is a green initiative, many magazines criticized the company, pointing out, “What an interesting strategy: Emphasize the thing least important to your company, and ignore the thing most important” (citation).
Of course, in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill negated any sort of green clean-up PR the company had done with solar energy. When companies implement projects that contribute to overall sustainability but don’t change their basic business practices, consumers feel deceived.
This not only inspires distrust for any future company activities, but also diminishes the overall value of the brand. In BP’s case, consumers clearly recognized company attempts at sustainability initiatives were misguided and manipulative.
Coca-Cola Water Pollution
BP, however, is not the only corporation to have made such a gaffe. In 2000, Coca-Cola established a factory in Plachimada, in the Palakkad district of Kerala, southern India. Just two years after production started, however, residents were already protesting.
They claimed that Coca-Cola was contributing to water pollution and extreme water shortages in the area, exploiting precious resources and endangering the lives of the locals.
After mass protests and government interventions, the plant closed in 2004, just four years after being constructed. The extreme drop in brand value among the Indian population made it almost an impossible move to recapture a market with large potential.
Faced with losing millions of consumers,Coca Cola reevaluated their strategy and attempted to recapture brand trust.
Today, the corporation has established programs to give back to communities and nature an equal amount of water to what they use in their finished beverages and the production processes it takes to make them.
The company predicts that by the year 2020, 100 percent of water used will be returned to the communities it draws from. In 2012, an estimated 52 percent was replenished to communities (citation).
Although Coca-Cola has returned to India, many people are still reticent to believe that any such corporation actually stands behind its so-called sustainability projects, or whether they do it to avoid bad press.
These are just a couple of examples of how sustainability projects can backfire. Of course, not all companies are using sustainability only as a PR move.
Examples of Good Sustainability
To be sustainable the interests of the company must match the interests of the environment and the community in which the company operates.
For example, using solar panels is good for the company because over the long term, solar energy costs less than traditional electricity, and is better for the environment. Lets look at a few more initiatives.
Campbell’s Soup is a company that has earned the title for being one of the 100 most sustainable corporations in the world. In 2012, they redesigned their plastic packaging, which led to saving more than 1.2 million pounds of plastic, and over the past four years, they have reduced their water usage by 3 billion gallons.
Finally, they donated $40 million worth of products last year to needy communities, fighting hunger and the rate of childhood obesity in a “10-year, $10-million” program. They’ve also maintained their headquarters in Camden, New Jersey.
While many other big companies have left town—Camden has been plagued with poverty and unemployment for many years—yet Campbell’s hasn’t gone anywhere.
In this instance, Campbell’s is doing a great job. They’re benefiting themselves by strengthening brand loyalty and reducing costs, but they’re also giving back to the community and stimulating the local economy. If they moved, jobs would be lost and the community would likely further deteriorate.
By staying in Camden, Campbell’s is benefiting themselves, their consumers and their brand loyalty.
The Clorox Company is also working hard to create green initiatives. Their Brita filters aim to lessen the impact that plastic bottles have on landfills, with a single filter being able to replace 300 standard 16.9-ounce bottles.
In other words, one filter saves fifteen pounds of plastic. They also produce a line of natural cleaning products called Green Works, which are biodegradable, non-allergenic, not tested on animals, and packaged in recyclable bottles.
At least 95% of those products’ ingredients come from sources like coconuts and lemons.
These are ways to keep customers engaged with a product line by giving them what they want (and in turn earning profits as a business), while also taking care of the environment. A win-win for everyone involved.
Things to Remember About Sustainability and Your Brand
Integrating green initiatives and sustainability efforts within your company is complex. You have to consider how you can best implement certain strategies and what will be most beneficial both to your business, your consumers, and the environment.
Sustainability is a way to keep your business competitive, as consumers will increasingly expect green products, rather than pay a premium for them like they do now. As time goes on, it is important to learn how to maximize mutual benefit.
Take, for instance, the onslaught of electric cars in the past few years. Consumers are beginning to look for more ways to cut down their fuel costs as well as the output of vehicle emissions, and car companies took notice.
These cars sell at a premium now, but in several years, they may be more of the norm, which would cause prices to drop.
It’s also important to think about what will have most impact for the labor involved in creating these projects.
BP’s Solar Panels
While the effort it took for BP to install solar panels was pretty significant, the impact wasn’t that great. Because of the all-but-ignoring of the other issues the company had, people didn’t take the solar panels seriously. Conversely, The amount of effort it takes for Campbell’s to stay where they’re already located is minimal, yet has a huge impact on the local economy.
When you are brainstorming ways for your brand to be sustainable, weigh the effort against impact.
Once you’ve got some ideas it’s important to keep communication flowing. People will likely have questions, and you’ll need to have answers ready.
You should also be prepared to follow up with the plans, since the impact they have will change over time. In other words, while Clorox’s GreenWorks line is great now, what about five years from now? Will people want different product lines or ingredients?
Revisiting the plans regularly is imperative when implementing a successful sustainability plan.
The Need to Adapt
Companies that refuse or fail to adapt to the increasing demand for businesses to give back will likely see themselves falling by the wayside. Consumers have grown tired of giving, giving, giving without getting anything back. Work with them to create mutual value.
Do you think sustainability is important for a company to focus on? Does your organization use green technology or have sustainable initiatives in place? Tell us about it in the comments.