The 5 Truths Needed to Create a Sustainable Brand

Small efforts aren’t going to cut it anymore

A collage illustration of gas, earth, money, arrows, text bubbles, phone, depicting the environment
Environmentalism needs to be part of business models.
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The mad scramble to make brands more sustainable is in full swing. And while companies are right to tackle this issue, the truth is that quite a few of them are still getting it wrong. That’s because there are still a few glaring misconceptions about the movement in general; not only what it means to be sustainable, but also how to achieve true sustainability.

Throughout my career, sustainability has been a common thread. During that time, I’ve learned quite a bit about how brands perceive the notion of sustainability and how easily they can miss the mark. So, in the interest of demystifying the whole affair, I’d like to share five facts I’ve learned about this movement that will hopefully bring it into clearer focus.

We’ve gotten better at measuring sustainability

Almost all brands today are trying to solve the sustainability problem. The byproduct of this is that we are collectively creating the capacity to measure our success through a variety of channels. This is precisely what the movement has lacked thus far: a way for us to track our progress and get a clearer picture of the overall impact our efforts are having.

For most of our history, waste was invisible. If you threw something away, it simply disappeared from your reality. Today, we are tracking the movement of disposed materials and resources down to a subatomic scale. Take the movement of plastic in the world. We are seeing plastic in fish on a molecular level. We are building a global capacity to track the world’s energy and material flow and creating metrics that will allow brands to make better decisions and build reasonable, actionable sustainability strategies. That will allow brands to measure and track the impact they have when they make changes for the better. It will also mean that if we fail to improve that will also be measured.

[What we've lacked thus far is] a way for us to track our progress and get a clearer picture of the overall impact our efforts are having.

Real change takes baby steps, not leaps

A new, splashy product or service may make a few headlines, but true sustainability is achieved through a series of incremental improvements. For example, by using products that are recyclable or reusable, we can drastically reduce the amount of waste shows create.

Individually these products make a difference, but within the context of a global provider that may use them thousands of times in a year, they can do a tremendous amount of good. The target here is to eliminate the need for “disposable” products altogether, because the truth is, they are not actually being disposed of—at least in the sense that most of them will sit in a landfill for years. The whole notion of single usage is being challenged by people all over the planet, and brands like Unilever, Nestlé and Coca-Cola are starting to explore real, impactful solutions. In fact, Canada has just announced a national ban on all single-use plastics by 2021.

You can’t always do it alone

The biggest challenge is that we’re not just facing a single problem, we’re facing an ecosystem of problems. In order to face a complex range of issues, we need help. To begin with, our customers are going to have to play a big role. The good news is that right now, there are a thousand other players that are looking at these opportunities and creating solutions as well.

It’s about tackling sustainability as a strategic function of your business.

The whole world is moving this way, and we are starting to see collaborations between large global brands that are mutually committed to global transformation of their industries. We can learn a lot from these sorts of partnerships, especially when all the parties involved have aligned their values. When a client on the scale of McDonald’s says they’re going to be sustainable, the scale of transformation that represents globally is off the charts. Now imagine every vendor they partner with following suit.

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