In recent years, sustainability has become a hot buzzword — reflecting the heightened concern that many have about the future of our planet. It’s likely that you or people you know are trying to reduce the heavy footprint of our industrialized society by recycling paper and plastic, choosing eco-friendly goods, enacting sustainable business practices and trying to use other resources wisely.
You aren’t alone in your concerns. The looming threat of climate change — the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cites the year 2030 as the deadline to dramatically lower emissions to curb rising global temperatures and avert catastrophic environmental effects — is mobilizing leaders across industries, from healthcare to telecom to finance to consumer goods, to become sustainability champions.
As more companies grow eager to revamp their identities, modernize their look and feel, and streamline their structures and operations, they have found many opportunities to include sustainable measures in these rebrands. These opportunities to make a difference exist whether your company is doing a top-to-bottom rebrand, or just refreshing brand touchpoints such as fleet, signage, or marketing collateral.
Sustainable business practices: What they are, and what they aren’t
It can be tricky to define what sustainability truly is, and easy to confuse sustainability with green initiatives and eco-everything. But sustainability is more than that. Sustainability encompasses three pillars: an environmental pillar, a social pillar, and an economic pillar. These pillars enable companies to reduce their environmental impacts, support and engage employees, partners and community, and enact proper compliance, governance, and risk management.
Sustainable business practices can have widespread benefits for everyone, from your employees to your end client. Corporations can make a big impact in places they operate in — especially in developing countries — by elevating the quality of life through education and programs improving access to basic health and sanitation needs. With a more sustainable environment to operate in, companies reap the rewards of better production, economic growth in the region, and long-term benefits for both the earth and the organization.
Sustainability may seem like a financial drain, necessitating special equipment, practices and materials to carry out. And there is some initial investment required. However, sustainability can actually help your bottom line. Investing in a sustainable framework isn’t just good PR —it’s a smart financial move, as transnational consumer goods juggernaut Unilever can attest.
A study in what’s possible: Unilever’s Sustainable Living Initiative
In 2010, Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan, which focused on three main goals:
- improve the well-being of more than one billion people by 2020 through better health, hygiene, and nutrition;
- cut environmental impact by half by 2020 by reducing greenhouse gases, water use, waste and packaging, and through sourcing materials sustainably; and
- advance the livelihoods of one million people by 2020 by championing fairness in the workplace, opportunities for women, and inclusive business.
To achieve these goals, Unilever has innovated its entire operations. Its products and supply chain were revamped from end to end: now products are designed with sustainable usage and responsible consumption in mind. That means its manufacturing processes are optimized to reduce emissions and waste, and procurement of materials is performed in a sustainable fashion. All partners along the supply chain, no matter how small, have a chance to grow with the organization.
A happy workforce leads to a stronger company. Unilever has seen this in its long-term growth, ensuring there is fairness in the workplaces not only by enforcing rights within the organization but also throughout its entire supply chain. In 2018, Unilever reported that its Sustainable Living brands demonstrated 69% faster growth than the rest of the business, and that 7 of the company’s top 10 brands are Sustainable Living brands.
Modern consumers react to brands whose values echo their own and who don’t prioritize business growth at the expense of people and the planet. In recent years, other consumer packaged goods leaders like Proctor & Gamble and Kraft Heinz have also noticed this in their markets and have worked on reevaluating their business practices to stay competitive in this race for sustainability.
Carrying out your rebrand… sustainably
It’s not always necessary to invest in a massive sustainability campaign like Unilever’s to make a difference for the planet. We work with a variety of clients who are rebranding and invite our input on ways to improve sustainability when converting their physical assets to their new identity.
In many ways, a rebrand offers a unique opportunity to revisit (or develop) your sustainability practices, and it’s easy to rack up some quick sustainability wins. A few obvious strategies include:
- opt for post-consumer material;
- partner with reputable vendors with a proven history of sustainable practices;
- implement lower-energy lighting solutions for signage; and
- focus on longevity and quality in assets.
However, these are only some of the many ways to build sustainability into a rebrand from the project’s very inception.
In future posts, we will explore more specific strategies for sustainably rebranding large, complex asset categories such as signage, products and packaging, and marketing collateral.
In the meantime, consider how sustainability might fit within your brand. You’ll be helping pave the way for a better future – both for the planet and for your organization.