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Consumers Look to Favorite Brands for Sustainability Without Compromise

Posted by: Fred Burt on June 14, 2013
Interbrand London Best Global Green Brands 2013 EventAs part of the Best Global Green Brands 2013 (BGGB) launch this week, Interbrand hosted an event at The Guardian newspaper's headquarters in London. With luminaries from the world of sustainability and branding in the room, and a panel-based format, the debate was always likely to be engaging and interesting. Here were the stand-out points I took note of:

Firstly, Jez Frampton asked the crowd who had three or more old mobile phones in their drawers and cupboards at home and the majority of the audience put their hand up (including me). This illustrated why Apple, among our top global brands, slipped down the BGGB ranking: product disposal is not something they are addressing actively enough.

Jake Backus, Customer Sustainability Director for Coca-Cola was a panelist. Coke is more interested in what they call casual greens rather than dark greens, as there are more of them, plus they’re looking for brands to help them be better consumers. They want their preferred brands to be more sustainable, rather than looking for the most sustainable brand in the marketplace. There’s an opportunity for leading brands to take note from Coke.

The panellists agreed that sustainability is a genuine unfulfilled business opportunity. Consumers do want great products that are better for the world. But they don't want to compromise on quality, performance or convenience. This is a huge opportunity for businesses and brands with R&D resources at their disposal. An example cited by Jake Backus was Coke’s I LOHAS water product, which has taken Japan by storm, in part because of its environmental credentials (although dark greens would probably be uncomfortable with claiming imported bottled water qualifies as "sustainable").

As the above example demonstrates, sustainability can be part of a growth strategy. This is particularly true in developing markets, where consumers credit brands that innovate in sustainability with technical excellence and therefore assume their products are superior.

There was an interesting contrast between BMW and Nissan. BMW recognised that to build a successful ground-up electric car they had to set up a business unit that was entirely outside of the core business. Nissan, meanwhile is looking to put sustainability much more at the heart of the business.

And I loved the idea that we, as brand stewards, should be looking at foresight rather than insight. The consumer wants to be led, and asking them what they want now will not result in leadership.

Finally, leadership itself was a key topic. I heard Coke talk about being very aware of its "social license to operate." Taking a leadership position on the issues it can and should be influencing – child obesity being the obvious one – is a responsibility they’re not ducking.

If last night’s event was anything to go by, our BGGB study is stimulating exactly the kind of debate we had in mind. I’m looking forward to following the feedback.

Fred Burt is the Managing Director of Global Accounts at Interbrand.

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