This decade was a tipping point for the sustainability movement and this piece, written by Landor Associates’ Russ Meyers, looks at the promotion and expansion of green brands.
Unlike much of the world’s industrialized nations, which were taking a harder stance toward reducing global warming, the United States was harshly criticized for not supporting the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions. Throughout most of this decade the government was not the primary driver of advancing the sustainability agenda. Instead, corporations—recognizing business, brand, and environmental advantages—took the lead in promoting sustainability.
Instead of following one path to success, corporate brands found different ways to utilize the growing interest in sustainability. For some corporations such as Walmart, sustainability was a means of improving a less-than-stellar reputation in addition to being “the right thing to do.” For other companies, such as GE and IBM, sustainability was a framework for defining businesses they were already promoting. And for other corporations, such as Toyota and Honda, sustainability provided a whole new market opportunity. For much of the decade, corporate social responsibility took a decidedly green turn as many companies focused their attention on issues such as waste and carbon reduction, ethical sourcing, and energy consumption.
During the 2000s, green wasn’t big for only businesses—it was also big for brands. Brands such as Burt’s Bees, Seventh Generation, and Tom’s of Maine, traditionally considered niche or counterculture, proliferated at retail outlets and brought the issues of sustainability to consumers’ attention. Soon they were joined by completely new brands such as Method cleaning products and Tesla Motors electric cars. Even well-loved, mainstream, consumer brands sought to retool themselves with a greener image: Tide reduced its packaging footprint; SunChips bags were made using solar energy; Clorox created one of the fastest-growing green product lines in household cleaners. By the end of the decade many brands seemed to find some advantage in going green.
Of course, successful sustainable brands of the future will have to demonstrate performance against environmental measures. But they will also have to demonstrate success against economic and social criteria as well. This concern for “people, planet, and profits” is known as the triple bottom line, and it is increasingly becoming the standard of measure for any brand that claims to be “sustainable.”
In the next and final piece, Russ Meyers explores what the future may hold now that sustainability is mainstream.
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