21 Jun Most Companies Aren’t Operating as Sustainable Brands. Here’s Why.
Most Companies Aren’t Operating as Sustainable Brands. Here’s Why.
What does it mean to be a truly sustainable brand in 2018?
That was the big question on everyone’s mind as more than 2,000 attendees from across the globe, including several representatives from Good360, gathered at the Sustainable Brands 2018 Conference in Vancouver this June. Apple, Amazon, Google, Unilever, GAP, Lululemon, Ford, and The North Face were among the many brands who sent speakers.
Over four days packed with back-to-back sessions, more than 300 brand leaders, social innovators, and environmental evangelists shared their ideas, solutions, and case studies along this year’s theme of “Redesigning the Good Life.”
Because consumer expectations for brands are changing rapidly. According to a survey conducted by Sustainable Brands in December, most Americans want brands to help them live the “good life.” However, the definition of a good life is shifting away from status, money and personal achievement to one that is simpler, more balanced, and filled with meaningful connections to people, community and the environment. The report showed that brands have a prime opportunity to help Americans achieve more meaningful lives, but 65% of consumers struggled to name a company that was actually doing that.
“People don’t really have ideas of how brands can specifically help, and brands are waiting for consumers to tell them what to do. Instead, brands need to generate their own insights and ideas, based on Americans’ emerging sense of what’s important to a life well lived — and create their own innovations to bring to market,” explained KoAnn Skrzyniarz, founder and CEO of Sustainable Brands, a global community of brand innovators.
At Good360, we are working hard to bridge that gap by showing companies how to be much more thoughtful about their product philanthropy and disaster giving, and connecting them with the appropriate nonprofit organizations where their donations can make the biggest impact.
Consumers increasingly expect brands to pursue a purpose beyond making money. By working with Good360, companies are developing a purpose-driven giving strategy that promotes sustainability and supports the circular economy, while helping communities in need.
At the confab, Sustainable Brands unveiled a new framework for any organization seeking a way to set goals and measure progress towards becoming a truly “sustainable brand.”
The SB Transformation Roadmap begins with a comprehensive definition of a “sustainable brand,” as that concept can mean many different things to different stakeholders. The SB team identified five key characteristics:
- Purpose beyond profit – has a clearly stated, articulated and embedded environmental or social purpose beyond producing profit.
- System-wide brand influence – leverages the power of brand influence to drive a systemic shift toward a sustainable world.
- Regenerative operations – operates in a way that ensures the health, resilience and flourishing of society and the environment.
- Net positive products and services – delivers products and services that result in sustainable outcomes across the whole value chain.
- Transparent and proactive governance – demonstrates strong commitment to transparency, integrity and leadership in governance.
The framework further identifies the pathway to sustainability as a five-stage process, starting from a conventional business (Level 1) to a sustainable brand (Level 5). An organization at the highest level is “profitably operating in a net positive business ecosystem by generating or restoring social, environmental and economic capital.”
The world has yet to see a Level 5 company, according to the SB team who developed the framework.
“More companies have not started than are on the journey,” said Kevin Hagen, VP of environment, social and governance strategy at Iron Mountain. “Getting started is hard, and then progress tends to plateau. Basically, if you are in Stage 2, you should be feeling great!”
Hagen cautioned companies to use the framework as a tool to drive internal changes and inspire organizational leaders, not as a way to increase brand visibility and compete against other brands.
With our longstanding focus on driving the circular economy and supporting sustainability, collaborating across public-private sectors, and promoting transparency, we at Good360 have been emphasizing many of the key elements of this framework already and are thrilled to see other organizations working toward the same goals.
In another key session, SB speakers encouraged brands to adopt a systems-thinking approach to tackle the world’s biggest problems, such as climate change and global poverty.
Because wicked problems are hard to solve, have interconnected causes and drivers, and involve many stakeholders, they require a process of change that recognizes that the world is highly complex and systemic. Therefore, to create effective solutions to these big problems, change agents need to convene a diverse set of key stakeholders and adopt a multi-level perspective to diagnose the system.
Change happens at the macro “landscape” level and also at the “niche” level occupied by small networks of dedicated actors making radical innovations. In between is the “regime” level where markets, infrastructure, technology, and policy have solidified into stable configurations.
You need to create a strategy that drives action across all three levels. And since wicked problems are constantly evolving, you need to be relentlessly re-assessing your strategy and taking iterative action to get the best results.
This discussion and others at the Sustainable Brands conference were an excellent reminder that systemic change can’t happen without a collaborative, multi-layered approach that puts the problem, rather than the personalities, front and center.
At Good360, we have positioned ourselves as the collaborative change agent for our donors, helping them to see that donations touch so many stakeholders and partnering with them to be more thoughtful about their product philanthropy and disaster giving.