A Guide to Building A Sustainable Brand in 2023

Kaine Levy
April 1, 2024
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When it comes to building a brand, we already know that brand strategy is one of the most important tools in our arsenal. It connects customers with your brand by:

  • Showing the value you bring to their lives (your offer)
  • Occuping a clear position in their minds (your positioning strategy)
  • Defining your reason for existence (your purpose)
  • Communicating why they should buy from you over a competitor (your differentiator)

In recent years, sustainability has also become a huge part of making a brand successful. As the buying habits of consumers continue to evolve, particularly with the younger generations, we can expect that sustainability will only become more important in 2023 and beyond.

Both brand strategy and sustainability play vital roles in resonating with consumers. Why? Becuase they’re both about making sure companies do more good than they do bad, and give back more than they take.

Today we’re going to look at how you can integrate sustainability into your brand strategy to futureproof your company.

What Is Brand Strategy?

Brand strategy is the process of evolving a brand from where it is now to where it wants to be. The ultimate goal of strategy is to create a long-term plan for how the brand will build relationships with its ideal customers, as well as occupy a unique position in the market. A strong relationship with your customers equals more sales.

But this isn’t about manipulating people into buying from you. This is about providing genuine value to their lives over time that makes them WANT to buy from you.

The brand strategy process will vary from agency to agency, but our process is extremely focused on people, both internally with staff and externally with customers. We believe that brands are built by people, for people. Without people, you have no brand.

“Brands are built by people, for people.” - Kaine Levy, Founder of Ventur
An overview of the brand strategy framework we use here at Ventur.

What Is Sustainability in Business?

Sustainability is about doing business in a way that means your company does more good for the world than it does bad. This can be on a larger scale such as implementing initiatives to protect animals and nature, or on a smaller scale by simply turning off lights or going paperless.

Really, sustainability is about making small tweaks in the way your business runs that makes a positive societal and environmental impact.

”Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” - United Nations

So, if sustainability is about minimising your business’ negative impact on people and planet, then what or who do we need to keep in mind whilst implementing change?

Here are the 17 goals (yes, seventeen!), as outlined by the UN, to give you some things to consider:

  • World poverty
  • World hunger
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Sustainable economic growth
  • Innovation and resilient infrastructure
  • International equality
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate change
  • Ocean conservation
  • Land conservation
  • Just, peaceful and inclusive societies
  • Partnerships towards global sustainability

Phew… that was quite a list. But I want to show you a real life example so you can see how easy this can be. Remember, this isn’t necessarily about immediately trying to solve world hunger (although that would be awesome if you have any bright ideas…). This is just about doing your bit.

You can do your own research on the obvious sustainable brands like Patagonia and TOMS, but let’s take a quick look at a lesser know example in Honest.

Honest is a company that sells eco-friendly baby products, and some of the ways they integrate sustainability are by packaging their products in reusable bottles, sourcing waste-efficient ingredients, and using shipping methods that reduce their carbon-footprint. Ultimately, what Honest does really well is talk about sustainability. By simply making sustainability a topic of conversation in your business, you’re already adding value to the community. You’re giving people something to think about.

You can read more about Honest’s contributions here.

How Are Brand Strategy and Sustainability Connected?

So if brand strategy is about differentiating and connecting with customers, then what has that got to do with sustainability? Well, because customers care about sustainability and buy from brands who care about it too. By implementing it into your brand strategy you can create an opportunity for your business to connect with them over a shared value.

There are many ways in which sustainability can be integrated into a brand strategy. Here are a few to get your cogs turning:

  • Use sustainability as a way to differentiate yourself from competitors (in your packaging, daily operations, shipping, carbon footprint)
  • Design your whole business around sustainability by connecting it to your brand purpose (look at brands like Oatly and Huel for example)
  • To attract employees who share your company values and care about sustainability (then you can look at things like how they get to work every day and reducing their emissions)
  • Partnering with the right brands to provide sustainable tea, coffee and refreshments to your staff

Get creative here. Brand strategy is about taking a holistic view of the entire business, its operations, and the people within it, and that includes sustainability. It’s important to remember not just to focus on the environmental impacts of your business, but also your impact on customers and employees when it comes to how you do business.

How branding and sustainability are connected (taken from Forbes' article on the 3P's)

Why Sustainability Is Necessary For Brands to Survive

As we mentioned earlier, consumer buying decisions and habits are rapidly changing. More than ever before customers care about the brands they buy from, what they stand for, and what good they do for the world. They want to buy from brands that are sustainable and who care about making a positive impact.

If your business is going to survive beyond the short-term, you need to be thinking towards the future and looking at the way consumer behaviour is shifting. When sh*t hits the fan in a few years and the world is facing some seriously irreversible issues, who are your customers going to buy from - the brand who makes a good product but causes a negative impact, or the the brand who makes a good product but does so in a way that puts people and plant first? You tell me.

Who Should You Hire To Help You Build a Sustainable Brand?

So you’ve come to your senses and realised that integrating sustainability into your brand strategy is key. That’s great news! You’re 50% of the way there already. But who do you bring in to help you do this?

There are really two main options:

  1. A brand strategist / brand strategy agency (like us)
  2. A sustainability strategist

Both are great options but work slightly differently.

Sustainability strategists are experts in environmental sustainability, climate change, and green business practices. Their whole focus is helping companies make sure that their products and practices don’t harm the environment or contribute to climate change. A sustainability strategist will know far more than a brand strategist about the specifics of sustainable business operations.

The goal of a brand strategist is to make sure that companies communicate their values and deliver on their promises. That includes their sustainability promises. Whilst a sustainability strategist would bring all the right expertise, without a brand strategist there’s no last line of defence to make sure these changes are properly implemented. A brand strategist serves this purpose and makes sure companies are not greenwashing.

“Greenwashing is a form of advertising or marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.” - Wikipedia

With this in mind, we think the best way to go is to hire a brand strategist. More often than not a strategist will bring in a sustainability expert to work alongside them anyway, so you get the best of both worlds. If you go straight to a sustainability strategist then you lose the person who will keep the company accountable to their promises, and consumers will quickly sniff you out for that.

Integrate Sustainability Into Your Brand Strategy Before It’s Too Late

In this article we’ve covered:

  • What brand strategy is
  • What sustainability strategy is
  • How they’re connected
  • Why you need them for the longevity of your business
  • How to go about implementing sustainability into your brand strategy

The world is ever-changing, and so are the behaviours and expectations of consumers. As a result, sustainability has become an integral part of any brand strategy. Don’t think of them as separate from each other, but rather two sides of the same coin. If you can create a solid brand strategy and then integrate sustainability into every stage of it, you’ll build brand that will last a lifetime.

If you’d like to work with us on building your sustainable brand, get in touch.

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