Recently, I've been undertaking more and more brand strategy work in the sustainability brand arena.

Just as in any other sector, the best design and the marketing that tells your story best will win out. But today, this must be matched up with, and complementary to a genuinely sustainable approach.

Put simply, today's millennials seek and consume information in advanced ways, and they have more advanced thinking about the products they will buy and endorse. And yes, they are far greener than previous generations.

Together, it means that a fabulously sustainable firm, with poor storytelling and branding, can fail. Equally, a firm seeking to cover up its poor sustainable practice is destined to be outcast.


What does tuna tell us about sustainability and branding?

Barely a month ago, Tesco removed most of Britain’s best selling brand of tinned tuna, John West, from its shelves. The Times revealed the Thai-owned company had reneged on a promise to stop using destructive fishing practices.

And Waitrose has become the first supermarket to set a deadline, ensuring all branded canned tuna it sells will be sourced using more sustainable fishing methods by the end of next year.

Jeremy Ryland Langley, Waitrose’s aquaculture and fisheries manager, said: “Sustainability is at the very heart of what we do and we are proud to have such a strong record for ensuring that our own-label tuna is caught in the most responsible way possible.

“When they buy a can of own-label tuna, our customers know that they are always buying a product which has been sustainably sourced, and now they will have the same assurance when it comes to buying a branded product.”

As it happens, certification and supply chain rules between Asia and Western supermarkets are in turmoil; it's incredibly complex to guarantee traceability or any genuine certainty on how, where or under what circumstances tuna, prawns or other delicacies are farmed and caught.

But this blog isn't about that. What's happened here is solid proof; today's consumers demand sustainability. Greenpeace, which had a big role in publicising the John West issue, said that through a massive mobilisation of its supporters, in just three days more than 45,000 emails were sent to Waitrose’s Managing Director demanding action.

Such is the marketing and branding environment of today. Through the power of email and social media, millennials and an NGO can force action from a top retailer, fearful of reputational loss.

The message should be loud and clear; take double care you're truly sustainable. And when you are; shout loud. There's a huge market for your story.


What to do next on sustainability and branding

Now that you've realised the issues, what should you do? Unilever, a market lead on sustainability, has set out a goal to improve the health, hygiene and well-being of more than a billion people.

Plainly that is beyond the scope of most of the businesses I work with. But you can set your own goals, even very basic ones. For example, when I meet new clients, I always ask about sustainability.

This helps me see how and where my brand strategy and creative skills can set about getting their message over. If I feel a potential client doesn't have a true, or worse a misleading line on sustainability, I also have to think hard about whether such an association can damage my brand too.

The nutshell; we can't all deliver environmental and business revolutions overnight, and we aren't all super-savvy on green issues. But there's good chance someone who comes in touch with your product will be.

Which means everyone who wants to stay in business today should interrogate their own sustainability practice and then shout about it. But first, really, really think hard about how green you are, and, as the Tesco story proves; how green those you work with truly are.

If you don't, you could come unstuck in the most horrible ways.

Thinking about sustainability? Worried about your business’s brand deliver on its strategy? I can help.

Drop me a line and say ‘Hello’. I’m based in the Cotswolds – but, for great brand conversations – I’m happy to travel!

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© Mike Garlick Design Ltd 2017