By Marc Stoiber
In 2010, my team wrote a piece called the 5C's of
Sustainability Branding, based on a green brand reality / perception
study we created.
I thought it might prove useful to revisit the 5C's in order to
see how sustainability branding has evolved. I for one
have observed several shifts in the way brands are talking about
(or not talking about) their sustainability achievements.
So here you are. The original 5C's, followed by my 2012 new
The Original 5C's
- Consumer-Facing - Not
sure what to do first? Look at what the consumer is looking at.
There are plenty of ways to improve corporate sustainability, but
consumer-facing changes will have the most immediate impact on your
brand's public perception. Think of Method's Omop, with its
compostable / recyclable bamboo and paper packaging - it stands out
like a beacon at shelf, where consumers can really notice the
- Competitive - To compete,
brands must innovate. And in the 21st Century, the best innovations
will have strong sustainability credentials. Concepts like GE's
Ecomagination are just the thin edge of the wedge. With price and
quality being equal, the competitive advantage will go to brands
that differentiate themselves with sustainability features.
- Core - Tying
sustainability to a brand's core business is another way to ensure
it resonates with consumers. If your brand sells hamburgers,
effective brand sustainability strategy would focus on hamburgers
(organic beef or recycled wrappers, for example). Car brands must
focus on making more fuel-efficient, cleaner cars - not saving the
rainforest. If you do something that is unrelated to your core
business, you risk alienating or confusing your consumers at best -
and having them holler 'greenwash' at worst. Brands like Clorox
Greenworks hit this one on the mark.
- Sustainability branding is more effective
as a two-way conversation, rather than a one-way announcement.
Honesty and transparency go a long way with consumers. Disclosing
what you're doing well, and what you could be doing better, will
instil trust…and trust breeds loyalty. Inviting consumers to
participate in a conversation about your process will further
strengthen the brand-consumer relationship. Think of Patagonia's
Footprint Chronicles - an online tool that helps consumers
understand Patagonia's strides in making their shirts and pants
more sustainably…and see the environmental shortcomings of
Patagonia's products as well.
- Credible - Sustainability
strengthens brands. But greenwashing, even if unintended, can do a
brand serious harm. The good news is that this is avoidable. The
key is in sequence. As long as your sustainability efforts are in
place, functioning and measurable before being announced, they will
be viewed as credible. And proven, objective credibility - when
paired with innovation that excites and communication that
clarifies and engages - is the key to sustainable brand
New C's For 2012
- Collaborative - The
London Olympics were a symbol of the new coming-together of
sustainable brands. Not only did it provide a fantastic showcase
that took green from being fringe to matter-of-fact, but it also
allowed green suppliers of all stripes to share notes and strike
partnerships. More and more, brands with sustainability credentials
are banding together to create standards, buying strength and
- Certified - Sure, there
were certification programs in 2010. But today, more companies are
going further, forming creative partnerships with NGO's. So instead
of merely getting a certification label, you're getting a
partnership that can spur innovation.
- Quiet - OK, it isn't a C.
But it sounds like one. And it's one of the most striking features
of green brands I'm seeing today. To wit: companies are treating
sustainability as the right thing to do across operations, supply
chain and governance, not a remarkable (and often short-lived)
product feature. So we're seeing more sustainability built in, and
less sustainability talk. This may also be symptomatic of the
increased vigilance brands are experiencing from citizen
journalists armed with thousands of twitter followers.
Your Sustainability Branding C's?
The moment I publish this piece, I imagine 5 better C's
will pop into my head. I hope reading it will inspire you to give
me your best C's (or A's, or B's, you get the drift). Give me a
better list, and I'll make sure to credit you when I publish the
next C list.
About Marc Stoiber