Let’s pretend that we are at a beauty pageant and contestants from all over the world, from a sizeable list of beauties, have been winnowed to the top five. The winner will be awarded the title of ‘Ms Sustainability’ – and she will be flown around the planet to pose as Mother Earth’s chosen ambassador. There is, however, a small exception; the contestants are not people, but the top five concepts for creating your brand of sustainability. We will now invite each of them to make a statement to our environmentally-conscious jury.
“In order to be crowned Ms Sustainability, I will advise the world’s leading brands to embrace the customer. They might say that they already do so, but there is a difference between being customer-centric versus being customer-facing. It means being able to pay attention to, listen and heed to what the customer is looking at. Because the customer is always looking at the future. By making customer-facing changes, you will have made the most significant impact on your brand’s perception. It’s only then that you will stand out, make a real difference and get people to notice that you have actually gone beyond printing your annual reports on recycled paper – and similar CSR crap.”
Ms Innovation. “I agree with Ms Perspective and believe that brands must go beyond the surface if they intend to be in business at all. To compete, you must innovate and this century will be remembered for brands that sought out strong sustainability credentials. With price and quality being equal, the world will give a competitive advantage to brands that differentiate themselves with sustainability features. A great example is General Electric’s Eco Imagination, a platform where GE partnered with industry leaders – as diverse as Walmart and Intel to Goldman Sachs and Total – to help solve global resource challenges. I also believe innovation comes before perspective.”
Ms Resonance. “Perspective and innovation don’t mean anything if you don’t have resonance at the heart of your sustainability strategy. Let me explain. If you sell burgers, please don’t talk about your efforts to save the Amazon. Talk about how you procure organic beef or ensure that your packaging is made with recycled materials or that you do understand that a chicken is a sentient bird. If you sell vehicles, focus on how your car is more fuel-efficient, hybrid-enabled or part of the ‘clean energy’ movement. Don’t talk about sponsoring orphanages in the Third World. If you do things unrelated to your core business, you risk alienating or marginalising prospects who will brandish you for greenwashing.”
Ms Engagement. “Sustainability branding is more effective as a dialogue, a two-way conversation, rather than a monologue or a one-way announcement. The days of the broadcaster are over. Every person today is a media company. We all have the power to ‘air’ our views. So honesty and transparency really are advantages when you seek the trust of others. Trust breeds loyalty. So, being open about your strengths and weaknesses, and your plans for turning weaknesses into sustainability measures can only improve your relationship with those you wish to engage with. I look forward to your feedback.”
Ms Credibility. “I don’t wish to talk too much, but I would like to underscore that sustainability strengthens brands. Greenwashing, even if it is not intentional, will seriously damage your brand and your voice in the sustainability ecosystem. One of the best ways to avoid this is to put a sequence of events in place. So long as your sustainability efforts are locked, so long as they are working and can be measured before they are publicly announced, they will be viewed as credible. When these efforts are paired with perspective, innovation, resonance and engagement, then objective and proven credibility will surface as the key to sustainable brand success.”
Before the results are announced, we would like to advise our patrons that the road to sustainability is long and, more often than not, paved with boulders that block immediate profit. But with your vote and the counsel of our five finalists, we believe all brands can sustain our mission of creating beauty with a purpose.
Oh, and world peace.