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Aligning Brands to Sustainability as a Strategy for Survival and Growth

One of the real concerns of sustainability advocates is that the stagnant global economy will put pressure on businesses to freeze, moderate, or even eliminate sustainability-oriented programs and messages.

At a time when corporate profits have cratered and nearly everyone's job seems at risk, the belief is that spending on sustainability will be lumped in with other examples of unnecessary corporate excess, like corporate jets and stadium luxury suites.

A review of recent studies and surveys suggest that, in fact, the opposite is true: Companies that aggressively pursue sustainability will put themselves in a position of unique strategic advantage. Ultimately, this can lead to more efficient business practices, an enhanced brand and improved fiscal performance.

"Sustainability and Branding: The Imperative of Continuity," a white paper recently released by ADC Partners, identifies a number of the underlying reasons for initiating or maintaining sustainability programs, and for aligning a brand accordingly:

  1. Green has entered the mainstream: Demographic and psychographic research reveal that people who shape purchasing decisions according to green sensibilities are no longer a niche audience.
  2. Brands perceived as ethical benefit: Several recent studies suggest that brands associated with "ethical behavior" and "social responsibility" produce a direct, related benefit to the bottom line.
  3. "Sustainable" brands may increase in value: Rapid consumer acceptance of green products and increased focus on corporate social responsibility has produced real world value for sustainable brands.
  4. Consumer and Business focused brands both benefit from sustainability: Business-to-business companies are finding that sustainability and related messaging are no longer restricted to (or beneficial to) consumer-focused brands.
  5. Sustainability-aligned brands can weather tough economic times. Research and sales data suggest that sustainable brands continue to perform well (and even outperform conventional products) despite the recent economic malaise.

It is inevitable that in the current economic climate, corporate decision makers (and marketing professionals in particular) will be under pressure to suppress sustainability-oriented programs and messages. Based on a review of current trends and research, such action would be akin to selling stocks at the bottom of a market cycle: a short-term reaction that eliminates the benefit tied to an inevitable turnaround.

Aligning a company and its brand to sustainability is no longer a niche activity. Rather, it has transformed into an integral part of a business case. Customers, stakeholders, business partners, employees, and others now expect that sustainability is part of a company and its brand. Backtracking on efforts to align with sustainability will ultimately prove more costly than continuing with planned activity.

David Almy is a principal of ADC Partners and teaches marketing at the University of San Francisco.

Image cc licensed by Flickr user fazen. 

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