Dear Brands: It’s Time to Stand For Something

When my husband and I grocery shop, we’re always on the lookout for new, interesting brands making interesting products. With so many similar products in each category, we both pay close attention to packaging and labeling, looking for signals that the brand cares about more than just making money.


For example, we prefer non-dairy butter in our household, and there are many plant-based options out there.


Unfortunately, most have palm oil in them. Palm oil has become almost ubiquitous in food products recently, and its demand motivates the destruction of the rain forests in places like Indonesia. Burning the rain forest to create a palm plantation creates havoc for all the animals living there, and it’s driving the orangutans to the brink of extinction. 


Knowing this, we are always looking for brands that mark themselves as part of the Rain Forest Alliance, and choose to use ethical and sustainably sourced palm oil. We found our brand – Melt – and they have our loyalty because of their commitment to doing the right thing for the planet. 


Melt Organic Plant-based Butter
Melt is a plant-based butter made from non-GMO, organic and sustainably sourced ingredients.


And we are not alone in this decision-making process. Unilever, the parent company for some 400 brands including Ben & Jerrys, Hellman’s, Dove and Seventh Generation (and purchased in more than 190 countries) has done a ton of research on which brands perform the best for them, and why. 


According to Unilever’s CEO, Alan Jope: “Two-thirds of consumers around the world say they choose brands because of their stand on social issues, and over 90% of millennials say they would switch brands for one which champions a cause.”


7 of Unilever’s top 10 brands have a sustainable mission, leading Jope to elaborate:


“We believe the evidence is clear and compelling that brands with purpose grow. Purpose creates relevance for a brand, it drives talkability, builds penetration and reduces price elasticity. In fact, we believe this so strongly that we are prepared to commit that in the future, every Unilever brand will be a brand with purpose.”


Unilever's Sustainable Brands Out-perform
Unilever’s Sustainable Brands Out-perform


Suffice it to say, there’s been a seismic shift in the way that today’s consumers make decisions about the brands they support. Riddled with choices, and living in a world more and more impacted by climate change, shoppers of all ages are making decisions based on which brands openly support environmental and social causes. 


So how can you take advantage of this opportunity, if you’re not already? 

Investigate: Examine The Landscape For Sustainable Opportunities


The sustainable business landscape is diverse, with many different options for how and where to implement a program. Check out brands you admire, that do good work in sustainability, and examine their structure. How do they integrate it into their business and their marketing? What makes it authentic? 


Here are a few options that could be good for you, depending on your business model: 


  • Becoming a B Corp: 3,132 companies across 71 countries are currently B Corporations. That is, they are legally required to balance business and profit, and to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. 
  • Committing to becoming Carbon Neutral: Measure your emissions and, based on your sector and business size, reduce them to zero by combining internal energy-saving initiatives with external emissions reductions. 
  • Renewable energy initiatives: Changing to renewable energy is good for the planet and good for your bottom line. Whether it’s solar power inside your buildings, solar storage for your data, or changing over to more energy-efficient lighting, heating, and cooling – options abound. 
  • Re-imagining your product packaging: If you sell physical products, then you may want to re-evaluate your packaging to avoid plastic and/or unnecessary waste. Companies like Loop can help you do this. 
  • Becoming a member of 1% For the Planet: A community of companies that donate 1% of their sales back to the environment. 
  • Create an ethical and sustainable product from start to finish: From Fair Trade agreements with farmers and craftspeople to ethically sourced ingredients, make sure that the way you manufacture your product is good for the humans involved, and good for the environment. 
  • Employee incentives: Create an incentive for employees to bike, use public transit, or rideshare to work. For example, I used to work for a company that provided parking. If you didn’t claim your parking spot, you pocketed the parking money every month instead. 


Decide: What Makes Sense For You, Your Customers, and Your Product


Make sure that whatever you decide to do fits with your brand personality and ethos


What’s your business model? Does it make more sense to ditch plastic and use banana leaves as product packaging, or to make all your buildings green? 


Photo by Good Soul Shop on Unsplash
Photo by Good Soul Shop on Unsplash


The direction you take depends on your team, your customers and your mission. Which sustainable pathway fits within your brand? What’s the sentiment for the various options internally? 


Look at your customer archetypes and decide: what matters most to them? What would they rally behind? 


When you find one answer that checks all these boxes, you know you’ve got your solution. 


Clearly State Your Position 


You don’t want this new initiative to be a secret. Whatever you choose, it should be obvious to consumers what you’re up to and why they should choose you above other brands.


This may mean getting certifications from organizations like the Rainforest Alliance, so that your customers know you are legitimately doing what you say you’re doing, and so that you can use a well-recognized, credible logo on your packaging and website. 


Watch the Cash Flow In…


Just kidding! This isn’t Field of Dreams. If you mow down a part of your proverbial cornfield and build a sustainable crop circle, you’re going to have some explaining to do. And, unfortunately, Kevin Costner can’t do it for you (but I can!). 


In all seriousness, there is a huge market opportunity for brands that take a stand on sustainability. Unilever’s study revealed a one trillion dollar market opportunity for brands that are credible and clear about their commitment to sustainable practices. 


So once you’ve done all the groundwork, you’ll want to create a strategic campaign to launch your new sustainable initiative. Your new sustainable messaging needs to cross-permeate every aspect of your brand presence: your website, blog, events, newsletters, packaging, digital ads, etc. To be believable, you need to be consistent, authentic, and thorough.


Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

If you are willing to play the long-game with your customers, to fully understand what matters to them, deliver on it, and build trust – then you’ll have a long-lasting relationship that will be hard for other brands to compete with. 


I know that in our household, once we do our research and commit to a brand, we consider it a done deal. Unless there’s some terrible revelation about that company, they pretty much have our business for life. As a consumer, it takes slightly more time on the frontend of the process, but it simplifies shopping from there on out. 


As the Neilson report “What’s Sustainability Got To Do With It?” concludes:


“No doubt for most consumers and companies, sustainability has evolved from a buzzword or passing trend into a necessary business opportunity. Companies are making strides to take a more holistic approach by looking up and down the value chain to meet consumers’ evolving needs in innovative ways. And in our digital and social media age, transparency

and authenticity are key. Sustainability claims on packaging must also reflect how a company operates inside and out. Winning requires making sustainability a key part of your business strategy from beginning to end.”