How Brands Must Rethink Sustainability

Most of us are familiar with the concept of sustainable development, but we usually think of it as exclusively related to the environmental movement.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of sustainable development, but we usually think of it as exclusively related to the environmental movement. But if companies hope to build a thriving world that can sustain their business success,we need to deepen the meaning of sustainability to include both the concept of lasting and enduring as well as the idea of life giving.


The first of these refers to the fact that capitalist enterprises must preserve the planet’s resources for future generations; the second refers to the fact that, for capitalism to survive, businesses need to figure out how to create a prosperous society of consumers who have the financial resources and living standards to support the very existence of capitalism. In other words, if capitalism doesn’t provide the jobs and decent wages to people, there is no market.

Further, capitalism must also be sustainable not just environmentally but economically, socially, morally, and ethically.

Economic sustainability refers to how we need to regulate the market to stop the constant boom and bust syndrome that capitalism constantly undergoes, destroying the stability of our societies.

Social sustainability refers to how capitalism needs to start taking into account and paying for the negative externalities it causes, such as pollution, urban blight, dysfunctional families, and other quality of life issues.

Moral sustainability refers to the fact that if capitalism is to be successful, it must deal with the enormous disparity of wealth and opportunity it has created between the developed and under-developed worlds.

Ethical sustainability refers to the need for capitalism to curtail the constant abuses and fraud that poison the free market.


These five domains are interconnected and interdependent. The lack of sustainable practices in any one of them weakens all others. They must work in tandem, with businesses and consumers partnering to ensure they become the new operating principles of capitalism.

Do you think business can adopt this expanded definition? Of will they be forced to in order to survive?

Reprinted from

Simon Mainwaring is a branding consultant, advertising creative director, blogger, and speaker. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he now consults for brands and creative companies that are re-inventing their industries and enabling positive change. Follow him at or on Twitter @SimonMainwaring.


About the author

Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, the leading social branding firm that provides consulting and training to help companies use social media to build their brand reputation, profits and social impact. Simon is a member of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Public Diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School, the Transformational Leadership Council and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London.