Charting a Sustainable Path in Brand Strategy
In today’s increasingly conscious market, sustainable brands are both a necessity and an opportunity. But how does one effectively create a sustainable brand? In this article we tackle this question head-on, providing practical steps for businesses looking to infuse sustainability into their brand DNA. In the following sections, we will focus on three critical areas that play a vital role in shaping a brand that is not only market-relevant but also genuinely committed to sustainability. We will explore how these areas – brand strategy, brand identity, and product and service design – manifest in real-world scenarios, examining specific examples to illustrate their successful implementation in practice.
First Pillar: Laying the Groundwork for Sustainability Branding
Brand strategy is the blueprint of your brand’s approach to sustainability. It involves defining how sustainability aligns with your brand’s mission, values, and long-term goals. A well-crafted brand strategy ensures that sustainability is not just an add-on but a core aspect of your business model and decision-making process.
Defining Sustainability in Your Brand’s Context
The first step is a clear, introspective understanding of what sustainability means for your brand. It’s about shaping the sustainability narrative to align with the unique identity and mission of the brand. Whether it’s focusing on reducing environmental impact, enhancing social welfare, or pioneering sustainable innovations, this step is vital for ensuring that a brand’s sustainability efforts are both relevant and genuine.
When discussing sustainable brands, it’s impossible not to mention Patagonia, a benchmark in embodying sustainability in every aspect of its business. This outdoor clothing company is renowned for its ethical manufacturing and unwavering commitment to environmental conservation. Patagonia’s sustainability practices are deeply embedded in every aspect of its operations, from the selection of eco-friendly materials to the investment in renewable energy for its production processes.
The brand’s dedication to reducing environmental impact is evident in its initiatives, such as using recycled polyester in its clothing and advocating for fair labor practices and environmental activism. This all-encompassing approach to sustainability transcends mere marketing strategy, reflecting the core values and mission of Patagonia. By aligning its business practices with its commitment to the planet and society, Patagonia has set a benchmark for what it means to be a sustainable brand, demonstrating the powerful role businesses can play in driving positive change in the world.
Setting Strategic, Measurable Sustainability Goals
Once your brand’s sustainability vision is clearly defined, the next step is to establish strategic, measurable goals. These goals should be ambitious yet achievable, serving as milestones on your brand’s sustainability journey. For instance, setting a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a certain percentage or committing to a timeline for achieving zero waste in operations. These specific objectives provide direction and accountability, guiding your brand’s efforts towards tangible sustainability outcomes. A good example of this is IKEA’s pledge to become climate positive by 2030, focusing on reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than its entire value chain produces, showcasing a bold and strategic approach to sustainability.
Embedding Sustainability into Your Business
The third step in laying the groundwork for sustainable branding is to embed sustainability at the core of your overall business strategy. This crucial phase involves a comprehensive integration of sustainable practices across all business dimensions – from overarching strategic planning to the finer details of marketing and customer engagement. It’s about adopting a sustainability lens for every decision and action, ensuring they align with your broader sustainability goals. This strategic embedding sets the stage for the more detailed and focused application of sustainability principles in product and service design, which we will explore in the third pillar.
Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is a good illustration of an integrated approach, touching every aspect of the business from product formulation and packaging design to supply chain management and marketing strategies. Unilever has set ambitious targets to improve health and well-being, reduce environmental impact, and enhance livelihoods across its global operations. For instance, they are committed to halving the environmental footprint of their products by 2030, which involves reformulating products to use less water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and sourcing raw materials sustainably. In marketing, Unilever focuses on creating campaigns that not only promote their products but also educate consumers about sustainable living practices. Additionally, they are investing in community projects that improve health, hygiene, and nutrition, thereby enhancing livelihoods. This holistic approach ensures that every decision and action Unilever takes aligns with its sustainability goals, making it a leader in corporate sustainability.
Second Pillar: Integrating Sustainability into Brand Identity
Having established a solid foundation where sustainability is deeply embedded in the company’s strategy, our focus now shifts to effectively communicating this commitment. This step involves translating the company’s sustainable practices and ethos into a tangible and relatable brand identity. It encompasses not only visual elements like logos and packaging but also the tone and messaging used in marketing materials.
Crafting a Visually Sustainable Brand Image
A sustainable brand identity is about creating a visual language that communicates your brand’s commitment to sustainability in a way that resonates with your audience. The key here is consistency – ensuring that your brand’s visual elements reflect your sustainability focus across all platforms and channels.
Key brand touch-points include product packaging, which should use eco-friendly materials and design; marketing materials, both digital and print, that consistently use sustainable themes and messaging; the brand’s online presence, including its website and social media platforms, where the aesthetic and content should align with sustainable values; physical retail spaces or offices, which can embody sustainability through eco-conscious design and materials; and even corporate attire or promotional merchandise, which should be sourced and produced sustainably.
Take, for instance, one of our own projects, Solapop—a ray of joy in the craft soda world. When they reached out for help in creating a visual identity and packaging, it was evident that their brand was all about radiating happiness, inclusivity, and a deep-rooted commitment to sustainability. In an inspired move, we opted for direct-to-can printing, done in collaboration with Hart Print, a leader in sustainable printing solutions. This eco-friendly approach not only reduces waste but also simplifies recycling, perfectly mirroring Solapop’s sustainable ethos. The design itself features a splash of vibrant colour bars to denote different flavors, capturing the brand’s lively spirit. This approach isn’t just about looking good; it’s about doing good and feeling good. Solapop’s strategy is a sparkling example of how sustainable branding can be both visually stunning and environmentally conscious.
Developing a Sustainable Brand Voice
Alongside visual identity, developing a sustainable brand voice is crucial. It’s about telling your brand’s sustainability story in a way that is authentic and engaging. This could mean sharing behind-the-scenes insights into the company’s sustainable practices, highlighting partnerships with environmental organizations, or educating consumers about sustainability issues through your content. The goal is to create a brand voice that not only informs but also inspires and motivates your audience to join your sustainability journey.
The “Don’t Buy This Jacket“ campaign by Patagonia, launched in 2011 with a striking ad in The New York Times on Black Friday. It stands as a bold example of a brand promoting sustainability and responsible consumerism. This counterintuitive campaign, urging customers to reconsider their purchases in light of the environmental impact, was part of Patagonia’s broader Common Threads Initiative. This initiative advocated for buying less, repairing broken items, reusing, and recycling, aligning with the company’s commitment to environmental responsibility and reducing waste. By highlighting the resources and environmental costs involved in producing one of their jackets, Patagonia not only challenged the fast fashion culture but also enhanced its reputation as an environmentally responsible company, attracting customers who shared similar values and demonstrating a long-term commitment to sustainability and environmental activism.
Third Pillar: Innovating for Sustainability in Product and Service Design
The third pillar of sustainable branding is the development of products and services that embody your sustainability goals. It’s about innovating in ways that meet consumer needs while also minimizing environmental impact and maximizing social benefit.
Sustainable Product Development
Sustainability is a fundamental design principle in product development. This mainly involves rethinking and redesigning products to reduce their environmental footprint. Key areas include opting for eco-friendly materials, implementing energy-efficient production processes, and designing products for longevity and recyclability. A prime example of this is sustainable packaging. By using materials that are recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable, brands can significantly reduce their environmental impact. Sustainable packaging not only lessens waste and resource consumption but also serves as a physical manifestation of the brand’s commitment to environmental stewardship, resonating strongly with eco-conscious consumers.
The Dell Ocean Plastics Program was initiated in response to the escalating issue of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. This comprehensive initiative adopts sustainable practices throughout its production chain, notably including the sourcing of primary materials from ocean-reclaimed waste. The collected plastics are processed and transformed into packaging materials for Dell products. This packaging is not only durable but also environmentally friendly, showcasing a practical application of how recycled materials can be effectively utilized in product design.
Source: Dell Ocean Plastics Program
Service Design with a Sustainability Focus
In the realm of services, integrating sustainability means designing your services to be as eco-friendly and socially responsible as possible. This could involve reducing the carbon footprint of your service delivery, ensuring fair labor practices in your supply chain, or offering services that directly contribute to environmental or social causes. The aim is to ensure that every aspect of your service delivery is in line with your sustainability goals, thereby reinforcing your brand’s commitment to making a positive impact.
Lyft sets a sustainability standard in the service sector by transitioning to a fully electric vehicle fleet by 2030 and offsetting carbon emissions, making all rides carbon-neutral. This aligns their operations with environmental goals, showcasing a commitment to eco-friendly service delivery.
Another well-known service globally, Zoom, contributes to sustainability by reducing the need for travel with its video conferencing platform, thereby cutting down on business-related carbon emissions. This approach aligns with sustainable practices, demonstrating Zoom’s commitment to minimizing environmental impact through innovative service design.
Forging a Sustainable Future
Integrating sustainability into your brand is a multifaceted journey. It involves redefining your brand’s core values, setting strategic goals, and innovating in product and service design. By following these steps and drawing inspiration from leading brands, you can create a brand that not only stands out for its commitment to sustainability but also inspires change in the industry and contributes positively to the world. Embarking on the path to sustainability is a necessary evolution in how brands operate and engage with their consumers and the planet.
Strano + Pettigrew Design Associates is an award-winning branding and design agency based in Toronto Canada serving clients nationally and abroad. For new business enquiries contact us at: