Thursday, 25 November 2021 16:03

It’s no longer an option for brands to ignore sustainability. Consumers are demanding brands step up and prove they are authentically determined to prioritise planet alongside profit. It is not just consumers demanding this, but employees and investors are also prioritising sustainability when they make choices as to who to work for, or who to invest in.

Sustainability needs to be considered whether your brand is a new brand or well-established. Many of the world’s largest organisations are driving sustainability in their strategic goals, through a number of initiatives and ambitious target setting.

Brand action on sustainability

Brands can bring sustainability into their strategy in a range of ways. Some of these actions include:

  • Lead by example, internally and externally
  • Create products with less packaging
  • Invest in recycled packaging
  • Use natural, organic ingredients
  • Introduce eco-friendly options that are more affordable
  • Insist on sustainable practices within supply chains
  • Set emissions targets and put in place action plans to achieve sustainability targets
  • Focus on reducing waste (reuse, recycle, repair)
  • Minimise pollution
  • Offset carbon
  • Contribute to environmental causes
  • Be vocal in supporting sustainable initiatives
  • Invest in local production options where possible
  • Use and invest in renewable energy and technology
  • Partner with organisations who can help with your brand achieving sustainability targets
  • Educate consumers on how to be more sustainable

One thing is certain, brands will not survive if they continue with business as usual if that doesn’t address sustainability in some way. Even if we put a fraction of the effort that went into tackling COVID-19 into addressing climate change, we will be in great shape for a greener future.

Consumers demand sustainability

Consumers have the power to choose sustainable options, but brands need to build trust and prove their commitment through action. They must practice what they preach. It can be confusing for consumers, especially with the amount of greenwashing that has already started to take place. Government and regulatory bodies are cracking down on greenwashing in advertising, organisations such as B Corp are creating strict certification criteria for companies to adhere to which is one way for brands to build consumer confidence.

Brands need to highlight their sustainable values in their marketing communications but also hold themselves accountable.

For brands, the challenge of sustainable transformation is balancing the profitability and day to day operations of business as usual with making the necessary changes to reach sustainability goals. Some sectors and industries will find it more challenging than others. But every step and action does count and every day we are reminded of the urgency to act.

At the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, targets and agreements were signed, however consumers were left wondering if they went far enough?

The agenda had all the right intentions – cutting our reliance on coal, oil, and gas, reversing deforestation, and mitigating against greenhouse gases. Greta Thunberg and other prominent climate activists say it was a failure and that agreements made by world leaders were not enough to tackle the climate crisis we are facing.

The sustainability journey for brands

Some brands, large and small are already leading the way in their industries while others are not sure where to start. The first step is to set goals and understand the concerns and perception of your brand in the eyes of consumers. Brand research can give your organisation a clear understanding of what your customers expect and enable you to set out plans to achieve this.

A great example is Bank Australia. Their ‘clean money’ policy promises their investments will only focus on planet positive initiatives such as clean energy, sustainable investments, not-for-profit and community. They have promised not to invest in fossil fuels, live animal exports, the arms industry or gambling and tobacco.

The good news is that every industry is taking responsibility for reducing emissions and planning their path to net zero. Even leading players within the mining industry such as BHP and Rio Tinto have agreed upon reaching the net zero goal by 2050. The hope is that they stick to this and with continued pressure from government, investors and consumers will achieve this sooner and build upon this commitment with other opportunities such as moving away from coal and into renewables.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer behaviours and attitudes around the globe at such a rapid pace, brands must take the time to understand their customers and clients new context. Brands need to question everything they thought they knew about their customers, as well as how much customers know about them. That includes what they do and how they do it.

Brands who act now will reap the rewards

Brands proactively changing to sustainable strategies will reap the benefits of this new context. It is now a strategic imperative for brands to be sustainable because consumers are expecting it.
So how will your brand prioritise sustainability? BrandMatters can tailor a research approach that will uncover the expectations of your core clients so that you can ensure your strategy aligns with what is most important to your customers and what will set you apart from your competitors.

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On 20 September 2019, Strike4Climate occurred across the globe. It was reported that over 6 million people worldwide, including over 300,000 people in Australia attended the strike.

This global strike movement is one of the largest ever seen across the world since the protests against the Iraq war in 2003, but it wasn’t just the sheer number of people that caught everyone’s attention, but also the vast number of organisations and brands that backed the cause.

To name a few, Patagonia, Ben&Jerry, Lush and Greenpeace were just some of the companies to align their brands with the cause, dedicating full pages on their websites to show their support. In an unprecedented alliance started by Australian company Future Super, together with Atlassian and KeepCup, called This is not Business as Usual, companies came together to pledge their support for worker participation in the climate strike. In just over a week, more than 2,800 companies across the nation joined the pledge.

This kind of support and public display of brand purpose is becoming more common among successful brands. There have been many that have led the way, and now others are redefining themselves with clear purpose and focus.

In fact, the heat from climate change is becoming a reality that brands cannot ignore. The pressure for businesses to act responsibly is stronger than ever - consumers are moving to support brands that take a stand. The pressure is coming thick and fast, not solely from consumers but also from regulators, employees, investors and shareholders.

Brands now need to be seen as responsible global citizens. A recent Garner report stated that “Employees, in particular, millennials are seeking to have a socially meaningful impact through work that aligns with their own values.”

The global market research company, Forrester has reported on the impact of climate change and how it is altering the world of business.

“Today, consumers explicitly consider factors such as company values and commitment to certain causes or beliefs when choosing brands to associate with or products to buy.”

Source: Forrester

There is definitely a recipe for success when it comes to the brands positively presenting themselves as a champion for climate change action. Brands must practice what they preach - they cannot simply advertise the fact. Brands must articulate their values throughout their brand strategy, brand story and communications.

In a previous blog, we highlighted some brands who are successfully incorporating sustainability into their brand values. These included:

  1. IceBreaker. Not only are their products living up to their promise, but they also commit to sustainable agriculture. They use merino wool from New Zealand and promise that the wool can be traced back to the farm it came from. They have created a sustainable business model that is built to support the farmers and is based on genuine trust and mutual concern for animal welfare and protection of the natural environment.
  2. Le Creuset. Quality and longevity of the product is what makes this brand stand out from a sustainability viewpoint. For almost 100 years, their brand promise has come with a lifetime warranty with a focus on building products that last, rather than throw-away short-lifecycle products.
  3. Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. Not only is the product and packaging made from environmentally friendly material, but the company also donates 50% of its profits to help build toilets for those in need.
  4. Sukin is an Australian, all-natural skincare brand. Their promise is - “what we leave out is what makes us special.” Their products are made of all-natural ingredients and no chemicals. 

The questions being asked, what does it mean to be sustainable; what do brands need to do in order to ensure consumers trust and value their contribution to environmental causes, in order to support them? Brands need to look at all angles, consider all options and put the planet on their agenda.

Business Insider recently interviewed four Australian brands who are weaving sustainability into their values in unique ways that resonate with their brand positioning. One example listed was Future Super.

“We won’t invest super into coal, oil or gas — leading sources of climate change — as well as any banks that finance fossil fuels, and companies that provide polluters with essential services,”
Kirstin Hunter, Managing Director of Future Super.

Many brands are coming up with unique ways to incorporate sustainability in their brand. Some of the initiatives that brands are committing to include:

1. Eliminating single-use plastics
2. Recycling programs in the workplace
3. Investing in biodegradable and earth-friendly packaging
4. Eliminating the use of chemicals in the workplace or in production processes
5. Reducing energy and water consumption
6. Ensuring environmentally friendly waste management systems
7. Measuring carbon footprint and offsetting carbon
8. Developing a climate action plan
9. Setting emissions targets
10. Initiating corporate social responsibility programs

This list is not exhaustive; ideally brands need to find the right initiative that will fit within their brand narrative - and be authentically and honestly executed. If companies fear that implementing these sustainability initiatives is going to be costly and impact negatively on their bottom line - they need to think of the alternative, and that is that climate change will damage economies, reduce the availability of finite resources and increase the cost of doing business. So it is for both business and humanitarian reasons, that companies of all sizes take action.

The below model graphically depicts the relationship between sustainability and profit. When implemented well, it will have a positive effect on market share and profits.

Sustainability Profit Relationship Model



Source: Sustainability-Profitability Relationship Model

Climate action offers companies the chance to connect with consumers in a way that demonstrates a common goal. It provides an opportunity for brands to weave this message into their brand story and communications.

It is not only customers who will support brands who actively and authentically weave sustainability into their values. This year's Edelman's Trust Barometer showed us how employees are relying more and more on their employers to lead the way on social responsibility, and with this comes the power to act on important political issues, such as the environment and its preservation. Brand purpose and aligning your brand to employees' values is becoming increasingly more important in winning the war on talent.

It is undeniably evident that brands have the power to move individuals towards positive change, in fact, some of the most successful brands have even managed to start the movement. Consumers will choose a brand they resonate with, a brand they feel represents their views. BrandMatters specialises in brand strategy; finding the right approach to incorporating sustainability into your brand strategy is imperative, and this is something we can help you uncover.

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