via Forbes: A sustainable brand is one that has successfully integrated environmental, economic and social issues into its business operations. However, many companies that consider themselves to be sustainable only meet one-third of this definition.
The communications marketplace has been losing the battle to maintain the sanctity of this concept as companies, activists and others throw the word “sustainable” around to refer solely to environmental issues. However, as I’ve discovered in my work branding sustainable businesses, focusing on the environmental side is a good place to start.
More companies are addressing social issues in their environmental sustainability programs as they realize how interlocked the two are. Brands have slowly realized that it’s futile to solve just one aspect of the issue.
Today, more than 90% of CEOs say that sustainability is fundamental for success. Evidence of the modern CEO’s state of mind is seen in how much attention companies are putting toward their sustainability strategies. Examples of sustainability initiatives include:
- Developing sustainable products and services
- Creating positions like Chief Sustainability Officer
- Publishing sustainability reports
And the trend seems to be deeply rooted: 88% of business school students think environmental and social issues are priorities in business. Additionally, more first-time entrepreneurs are building their companies around environmental protection. This has led to the rise of promising startups that focus on durable, eco-friendly and recycled products.
It has to come from the heart.
My optimism stems from the fact that the zeal to transition into a sustainable society comes from a place much deeper. We can talk about the power of technology in transforming almost every aspect of the world, but technology remains powerless without a strong human response. We can try to show via pictures and video how much damage we’ve caused to the environment, we can publish studies about the huge amount of plastic in our oceans, but no progress will be made without appealing to the emotional core of the matter.
The challenge lies in helping business owners feel connections to these issues, especially if they don’t see returns from investing in sustainability. This barrier must be overcome first before an organization as a whole can commit to sustainability.
On the other end of the spectrum are the businesses created by environmentally conscious people. Many of these companies have grown out of founders doing something drastic such as quitting their jobs to take on a cause. The rise of environmentally and socially conscious companies is inspiring to me.
Consumers are ready for sustainable brands.
My experience with consumers, especially millennials, is that they are becoming more risk-averse when it comes to spending their money. They generally spend more carefully than previous generations. However, when they do spend, there are some emerging patterns that favor sustainable brands. These consumers prefer to spend their money on brands that preach pro-social messages, apply sustainable manufacturing practices and exercise ethical business standards.
A recent report published by Shelton Group reveals that it’s important for brands to take a stand on social issues. “Brands & Stands: Social purpose is the new black” (email required) found that not only do consumers support corporate activism (86% want companies to stand for social issues) but also that 64% of them are likely to buy from such companies. According to Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand. Up to 73% of the surveyed millennials had a similar view. And according to Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse study, 81% of millennials expect companies to declare their corporate citizenship publicly.
It’s clear that consumers prefer sustainable brands. But without proper messaging to reach your consumers and show them what your brand is doing, they will end up buying from your competitors. Pay special attention to what you send out in press releases and on social media, as well as the general brand perception of your company, to ensure that you are showing consumers what you stand for.
Sustainable goes beyond green.
The greatest realization brands must make is that sustainability goes beyond caring for the environment. It involves three major aspects — environmental, economic and social — each of which must be taken into consideration for a true sustainability strategy. As a social media influencer, I am proud to be part of the change.