Sustainable Brands Save the Environment with Creativity


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By Susanne Green
June 22, 2012

Brands Creating a Sustainable Future

SAN DIEGO — What do you see when you image a marketing conference? Lectures? Slideshows? How about attendees gathering around a long stretch of whiteboard plastered in sticky notes, named the “idea board?” How about one big problem-solving session dedicated to catalyzing consumer change?

“It seems to be working!” remarks one organizer, who is obviously impressed by the idea board as a collaborative proposal project.

Sustainable Brands, a group whose members “focus on understanding and leveraging the role that brands play in shaping a globally sustainable future,” held a large conference on June 4-7 in San Diego. The conference and the group both underscore the idea that brands and the consumers who are loyal to them are poised to realign resources and create solutions to today’s social and environmental imperative.

Among the more than 1300 attendees at the conference were many representatives whose companies have responded to the overwhelming demand for sustainable products. Attendees gathered to “co-create a revolution in process,” and they proposed solutions collaboratively.

The collaborative proposal project followed the process of:
1) On-boarding/Discovery;
2) Ideation;
3) Co-Creation; and
4) Presentation of Proposals.

Participants were encouraged to submit their names and phone numbers for further discussion and integration of their proposals.

A solution suggested by attendee Paul Herman on the water challenge reads:  “Integrate the value of water and carbon into cost accounting and capital allocation.”

Sara Anan, another attendee, recommends, “Facilitate bottom up collaboration to support top down change,” and Joe Minder writes, “Redefine trash.”

An anonymous proposal put forth in the challenge of “Brand Intention” queries, “What’s the biggest brand promise you can make around sustainability?”

One of the emerging challenges on the second day of the conference was “influencing the media to promote sustainability.” We at Sierra Club Green Home couldn’t agree more!

Collaborative Change for Sustainability

Both businesses and consumers are innovators, according to one attendee.

“Business is built on the idea of sharing, “ says Christopher Lukezic of Airbnb, a company that is a community marketplace for people to list, find, and book accommodations around the world.

“We view our customers as a community [of people] who contribute innovative ideas,” Lukezic explains. He also describes a market environment that is conducive to building consumer “trust lattices” that foster community and support local economies and commerce overall.

“Brands act as agents for collaborative change,” says Sally Uren of Forum for the Future. For example, companies like the start-up Treecycler partner with brands that mail out bills, catalogs, or postcards imprinted with a code from Treecycler. The code gives the consumer an option to plant a tree in one of many reforestation projects around the world. It is a good way for brands to encourage consumers to browse through their mail, while also allowing them to counter the effects of deforestation for nothing more than a small contribution of time.

Sometimes brands act as catalysts for modifying consumer behavior. Suzanne Shelton of the Shelton Group, a research and marketing company that designs brand sustainability platforms as a means of motivating purchases and building brand loyalty, says that the first step in an advertising campaign is identifying automatic consumer behavior.

A campaign can then visually present a targeted negative behavior — for example, wasting water — to consumers and create a feeling of dissatisfaction and potentially a response. The final step is to propose very specific but simple actions for consumers to modify behavior. When multiple brands support an ad campaign, Shelton says, the risk that the public will not receive a campaign well is shared, lessening individual brand exposure.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also aligned with corporate partners and consulting groups to share risk and create momentum in conservation efforts, with the goal of creating the greatest overall outcome.  There are two considerations, says David Bennett of National Geographic, before aligning with another entity. First, does the collaboration corporation engage in business practices that support sustainability? And second, can the NGO create the kind of synergy for the corporation that makes the liaison worthwhile?

Looking at the multitude of brands represented as well as the flood of thoughtful products now available to consumers, it was clear that the sustainability movement is driving innovation. But how does innovation challenge the status quo, and how do small, unknown companies take on and beat incumbent players in the marketplace?

Dr. Sean Gourley, a researcher whose think tank company Quid has studied the mathematical patterns of war, terror, epidemics, and business, has developed an algorithm that enumerates the pattern of the system that allows small things to win.

“The equation that governs insurgent dynamics [also has applications in] innovation and technology,” Gourley says.

Numerically and otherwise, small but prolific innovations are delivering a big impact in the sustainability movement. 

For related article, see:
Eco-Entrepreneurs Inspire at Opportunity Green

Susanne Green is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about green homes, purple hearts, and white elephants.  She is a finance professional who has travelled on foot through varied countries on six continents and now lives with her daughter in Southern California. 

© 2012 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.

3 Comments

  1. Ajay July 14, 2012
  2. Harley Kakiuchi July 19, 2012
  3. Kamrul August 11, 2012

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