“Well-established or on the rise, companies like Natura, Banco Real, Native, Mãe Terra and AMMA have taken different paths to success, but they all share some strengths in common: These brands are committed to transparency; they are consistent; their external images and messaging align with their business practices; they demonstrate authenticity and are highly relevant to consumers with changing tastes, concerns and priorities.”
Among fast-growing nations, Brazil is one of the most committed to Corporate Citizenship and global sustainability practices. According to the Brazilian CSR organization, Ethos Institute, which has been helping companies manage their businesses in a socially responsible way since 1998, more than 1,400 companies (accounting for 35 percent of Brazilian GDP) are working with the institute toward social and environmental sustainability—and that number is growing every year. Led primarily by large Brazilian companies that have gone abroad, these globalized corporations have adopted policies in the past two decades that have set a new standard for all Brazilian brands.
The most high-profile company using Corporate Citizenship to engage consumers directly is Natura, a leader in the beauty industry. Like Avon, it uses a direct-sales model but outsells the American cosmetics company by stressing its Brazilian roots, using recycled materials, and sustainable sourcing. Banco Real, sold to Santander in 2007, has also made corporate social-responsibility and sustainability central to its brand. A Corporate Citizenship pioneer in the banking industry, it was one of the first financial institutions to weigh social and environmental factors as part of commercial credit decisions. Edging out 129 institutions across 54 countries in 2008, Banco Real was even named Sustainable Bank of the Year by The Financial Times and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Although bigger, sustainability-focused brands like Natura and Banco Real ushered in the Corporate Citizenship era in Brazil, creating new paradigms and demonstrating that sustainable practices and profitability are not mutually exclusive, a new generation of startups are emerging with a native advantage: They do not have to adopt Corporate Citizenship practices—they are born with Corporate Citizenship in their DNA.
Unlike bigger companies, smaller, nimbler businesses can more easily integrate Corporate Citizenship into their brand proposition, objectives, and success benchmarks. And unlike bigger companies, which may take longer to adopt and implement a Corporate Citizenship agenda or set of policies, many startups in Brazil today are conceived in an ethical context, grow accordingly—and are eager to take those values abroad. With innovation and strong ethical sensibilities at the core of their businesses, these next generation brands show that Corporate Citizenship isn't just about doing the right thing—it’s a competitive advantage.
Native: Launched in 2000, Native is Brazil’s biggest organic food and beverage brand. With products in over 60 countries, it’s the world’s largest producer of organic sugar and ethanol, and its portfolio now encompasses coffee, juice, olive oil, chocolate, cookies and more. As a large-scale producer committed to sustainable sugar cane production, Native’s Green Cane Project has been recognized by the World Economic Forum, the United Nations, and the US Department of Agriculture. Combining high-tech processes with respect for the environment, Native offers consumers variety, quality and a clear eco-conscience.
Mãe Terra: A leading organic and wholegrain food brand in Brazil, Mãe Terra promotes healthier and more balanced living. Responsive to rising consumer demand for healthy food and convenience, the brand has developed snack mixes for people on the go, snack packs for kids, and a plethora of instant meals. Mãe Terra also encourages a healthy lifestyle by sharing recipes incorporating natural, whole foods on its website and through social media. Demonstrating that it “walks the walk” on every level of its organization, Mãe Terra is transparent about its business practices, actively promotes sustainability and the merits of a natural lifestyle, and shares details about eco-friendly internal initiatives that put the company’s values into action.
AMMA: One of the largest producers of artisanal chocolate in Brazil, AMMA is as passionate about building a more just, sustainable world as it is about cocoa. From its organic, family-owned cocoa farms and environmental management structure to its profit-sharing program for factory workers and biodegradable packaging, AMMA is a model of strong Corporate Citizenship. More than selling premium chocolate, AMMA is protecting the rainforest, preserving traditional cocoa farming, empowering workers and demonstrating that ethical business is a path to success. Widely available in Brazil, AMMA is also popular abroad—more than half of AMMA’s earnings derive from sales in the US, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Korea, and China.
Well-established or on the rise, companies like Natura, Banco Real, Native, Mãe Terra and AMMA have taken different paths to success, but they all share some strengths in common: These brands are committed to transparency; they are consistent; their external images and messaging align with their business practices; they demonstrate authenticity and are highly relevant to consumers with changing tastes, concerns and priorities.
However, these brands also face common challenges. For one thing, they must keep prices competitive. Domestic Brazilian brands’ products cost about 30 to 40 percent more than imported brands, while some cost twice as much. While it’s quite possible prices may become more competitive as production processes are streamlined in Brazil, the most difficult balancing act will be achieving competitive price points without cutting corners ethically or environmentally or sacrificing their reputations as premium brands.
Whatever the challenges, these brands play an important and positive role in Brazilian society. They inspire new business models, more responsible consuming habits, and forward-thinking mindsets. More importantly, they show that combining profit with good practices is not only possible, but also extremely rewarding.