Building a Balanced Sustainable Brand Strategy One Case at a Time

Filed under: 1sdn,Business Sustainabilty | |

sustainable brand strategyA summary of session 5 of the Sustainable Brands Boot Camp series, Building a Balanced Sustainable Brand Strategy.  The webinar was led by Peter Salmon, Principle, SLM Faculty and President of Moxie Design, LLC. Salmon talks about a platform that his company has developed to help firms that are trying to figure out how to begin adapting traditional business models to better incorporate sustainability, make the transition to more environmentally sustainable and efficient practices.

By Aysu Katun, Green Economy Post

While environmental sustainability was a foreign concept to businesses a decade ago, today most firms realize the need to embed sustainability into their business models. The problem is they do not know how. Best practices from other corporations is a valuable source to understand what works and how, however, it is difficult to know where to look to learn those lessons. Peter Salmon’s company provides the solution.

Peter Salmon is the founder and Managing Director of Moxie Design Group, an agency that specializes in “identifying, designing and communicating sustainable ideas that are good for our environment, good for the future and profitable for business.”

In a recent webinar “Building a Balanced Sustainable Brand Strategy” launched by Sustainable Life Media, Salmon talked about a platform that Moxie has developed to help firms that are trying to figure out how to begin adapting traditional business models to better incorporate sustainability, make the transition to more environmentally sustainable and efficient practices.

Salmon kicked off the webinar by identifying sustainability as a human issue and recalling a conversation he once had with a group of Maoris, the native people of New Zealand, in which he was introduced to the concepts “kaitiaki”, guardians of the environment, and “kaitiakitanga”, the process and practices of protecting and looking after the environment. When Salmon asked the Maori what they are guarding the environment from, they replied, “You” referring to humanity and what the humanity has done to the environment. They said they saw humanity as something that needs to be controlled.

As the effects of climate change, poor waste management and natural resource depletion become more real and evident every day, how can we say that Maoris are not right?

Moxie Design Group attempts to become “kaitiaki” by trying to embed sustainability as a fundamental value and driving force for businesses. It has developed NextPlays, which is a platform for sustainable design and follows a three-step strategy to assist businesses:

  1. Build empathy with the future
  2. Design better models
  3. Consider & test results

Build Empathy with the Future

The first step requires a company to look at future financial, social and environmental conditions, understand the implications of those conditions and how they are going to have an impact on their business models and customers. NextPlays helps companies to consider several future scenarios or future “scans” as a way to understand the turbulence that lies ahead of them. Salmon admits that sometimes these scenarios can be too generic. He therefore recommends “humanizing” the scenarios by building personas and putting them at the center of the scenarios to understand what those personas need and want.

Salmon suggests that it is time to move beyond designing business models that manage better for the future conditions, which he calls Sustainability 1.0, to developing business models that influence and improve on the conditions, Sustainability 2.0. It is time to stop thinking about sustainability as a compliance issue or simply a niche green market activity, but as a driver of innovation.

Design better models

To help companies design better models, NextPlays mixes principles employed by nature with design principles and best practices from hundreds of businesses. A vital ingredient is 70 sustainability case studies that help to determine what works and when, and to focus idea generation and planning.

Drawn from the examination of hundreds of businesses, the case studies have been developed in consultation with the Doblin Group, a Chicago-based innovation strategy firm that works with Fortune 500 companies. NextPlays uses Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation to define where in the business sustainable “Plays” are being made.

NextPlays has identified seven categories of approaches or “Plays” companies have used to incorporate sustainability into their businesses.

  • Authenticate: Require communications feedback, be more transparent and provide information for customers and stakeholders.
  • Engage: Create broader value nets, maximize the mutual benefit of every relationship.
  • Go Long: Consider longer term impacts in decision-making.
  • Loops: Close loops on material inputs and outputs, use waste as resource.
  • Mix: Mix interrelationships between boundaries to increase rapid evolution.
  • Needs Based: Fill unmet needs or gaps in the system.
  • Simplify: Occupy a niche and simplify approaches.

Examples of companies employing each approach and how they have done it can be viewed at NextPlays case studies. The case studies can be viewed by approach or “Play”, where in the business the initiative was taken and the results achieved.

Consider and Test Results

Salmon believes that the future value of an enterprise should be measured not by just economic benefits but also by its social and environmental benefits and that no increase in one form of capital should come at the detriment of the other.

NextPlays categorizes case studies into three types of outcome: Refined, New, and Shifted. These outcomes are based on to what degree the initiative taken by a company has produced social and environmental benefits.

Refined outcomes result in the remodeling of existing practices to improve current products and services.

New outcomes result in the development of new products and services that include sustainability as a point of difference.

Shifted outcomes result in the development of new systems, new ways of doing things, new ways of living.

Salmon recommends companies to develop initiatives not in just one category, but to build a balanced portfolio of initiatives some producing refined and others producing new and shifted outcomes. He says that while there is a need to increase disruptive thinking to achieve sustainable innovations, the majority of success for companies comes from improved thinking. Therefore not all “Plays” have to result in shifted outcomes.

According to Salmon, sustainability “is not what you do well or good, it’s not a new green product extension or a CSR policy… it’s everything, it’s a total strategy”.

NextPlays uses case studies to make sense of the approaches undertaken by other companies and to understand what’s working. The goal is to build capability in firms that seek help and to equip them with necessary tools so that by considering future scenarios, looking at what other companies have done and determining what results they want to achieve, they can do it themselves.

It is an intuitive platform and a structured method that firms that are having trouble figuring out how to incorporate sustainability into their business models, will find useful.

© 2010, Aysu Katun. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Aysu Katun (18 Articles)

Aysu Katun is an associate editor at the Green Economy Post. She received her MBA degree from The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, where she focused on sustainability, marketing and strategy. At Fisher, she was a leading member of Net Impact's OSU chapter, which won the Chapter of the Year Award in 2009 . Before beginning her MBA, Aysu worked at Hewlett Packard in Turkey. A passionate traveler, Aysu has been to 27 countries and worked in three. Due to her international experience, Aysu is able to bring a unique perspective to sustainability issues in business.