With the Sustainable Brands 2010 Conference quickly approaching, consumers are asking more and more the same questions: What is a sustainable brand? How are they different from the rest?

by Sofia Ribeiro, Founder and co-owner of Kiwano Marketing, Read Sofia’s BlogFollow Sofia on Twitter.  Sofia is presenting a free webinar, Turning Green Into Gold: Green Marketing Tips For Sustainable Businesses on May 25, at 1:00pm PST / 4:00pm EST.

Back in 2008, Delia Bonfilio asked the same question when writing for Fast Company. Back then, the term ‘sustainability’ was only connected with the growth potential of a given brand.

Nowadays, the definition of what makes a sustainable brand is broader, and is commonly associated with green and/or ethical businesses. Sustainability now stands for the triple bottom line: planet, people, profits. Nonetheless, sustainable, green or ethical brands (whichever term is more alluring to you) must still meet the old-fashion sustainability requirements in order to survive.

So How Do We Define A Sustainable Brand?

In order to own a truly sustainable brand, businesses must integrate environmental, social and economic sustainability across the 3 brand elements:

Products/Services: the products or professional services that the company offers and the markets/clients that it serves.

Business Standards: the unique tools, processes, business strategies, delivery methods, knowledge base, core values and techniques that the company brings to a project.

Company Style: the organization’s personality, the way that businesses communicate and relate to the marketplace, and the distinct flair that the company possesses.

But this is not enough. To own a sustainable brand, businesses must also:

1. Have a policy in place, documenting all the values and standards the business stands for and acts on.
2. Incorporate the principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability into each of the business decisions.
3. Supply environmentally and community friendly products or services that replace the demand for the non-sustainable versions of the same product/service.
4. Be greener and more socially responsible than traditional competition.
5. Make an enduring commitment to environmental and social principles in its business operations.

Where To Start

It can be a daunting task to implement sustainable practices across the multiple areas of a company. A practical example of how to build a sustainable brand is brought to us by Unilever and its Brand Imprint Process. The Brand Imprint Process provides a structured framework for brand teams to understand and assess how sustainability issues impact – and are impacted – by their products. The process and its metrics help integrate sustainability considerations into the everyday business processes of the categories and brands. This holistic architecture helps organizations integrate social and environmental sustainability into the corporate business strategy.

Unilever's Vitality Framework

Taking Sustainability To The Next Level

Nowadays, sustainable organizations can no longer afford to implement eco and socially responsible practices only within their business – organizations must now look upstream and downstream, and assess if these practices are being put to work by the company’s partners, the partner’s partners and even by the organization’s clients. A company today isn’t just responsible for the product it sells anymore; it’s also accountable for all the components that go into that product, and how the product is managed across its lifecycle, including when the product becomes obsolete.

Impacts and Influences of a Sustainable Brand

For instance, Nestlé was heavily criticized for doing business with Sinar Mas, the largest producer of palm oil in Indonesia. Sinar Mas supplies many food, drink, cosmetic and biofuel companies worldwide, and is breaking Indonesian law by clearing protected forests for its palm oil plantations. When Nestlé went under fire for doing business with such an unsustainable company, the famous food company cancelled all its contracts with Sinar Mas. But despite the contract cancellations, palm oil from destroyed forests still remains in Nestlé’s supply chain: the other Nestlé suppliers still buy from Sinar Mas. The result: stronger criticism.

Another example of how demanding customers and communities are nowadays is the increase of legislation demanding companies to implement take-back programs. Businesses now are legally bound to implement processes to repossess products at the end of their lifecycle, hence decreasing the amount of waste that end up in landfills. We’ve seen this trend especially in the electronics markets, with Nokia and HP leading the way.

The Bottom-Line

In order to build a sustainable brand, businesses must develop a brand that is positioned to grow, consistently integrating environmentally and socially responsible values across everything the company does, from operations and its supply chain to its products and services, clients, partners and even investors.

© 2010, Sofia_Ribeiro. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Sofia_Ribeiro (13 Articles)

Sofia Ribeiro is the founder and co-owner of Kiwano Marketing, a green marketing services provider dedicated to support small, sustainable businesses. An experienced marketing professional and a green enthusiast, Sofia has an extensive marketing background across both small businesses and large enterprises throughout Europe and North America. Her expertise lays in guerrilla marketing and Internet marketing techniques, paired with a solid experience in copywriting and industry research. Sofia also manages a green marketing blog at http://www.kiwano.ca/blog.

  • http://www.accionusa.org/green Elizabeth

    Small businesses benefit tremendously from hands on tips about how they can proactively demonstrate their sustainable brand to consumers and suppliers alike. Microfinance non-profit ACCION USA is ecstatic to have Sofia Ribeiro as a presenter in our green business workshop series (www.accionusa.org/workshops).

  • http://www.sustainablelifemedia.com KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz

    Really nice job, Sophia, outlining the core issues of building a sustainable brands. As we at http://www.sustainablelifemedia.com say, a Sustainable Brands is about who you are, what you do and how you do it first (oh, and who you do it with!) and only THEN, how you talk about it. It takes a new kind of thinking, new tools and new forms of collaboration to build this new level of brand integration into a company. We are incredibly grateful to be able to support those who are driving a fundamental transformation taking place in the world, and we’re pleased to be in community with others like you!