Sustainable Branding - Enabling Differentiation

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1682 , Published on 09 January 2013

The plethora of brands available in market today often leaves the customer dazed and consumed. The brands are also in a constant fight for more self-space, ‘mind-space’ and wallet share. Amidst this, a new concept of sustainable branding has emerged that focuses on environmental and socially conscious customers.It is today re-defining the concept of branding.



A brand is a "Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that distinguishes one seller's good or service from other sellers’. Consumers today do not buy products, but buy brands. Consumers no longer ask for a shampoo, it’s a Pantene, a Head & Shoulders, L’Oreal or any of the other names.

Commercial Branding

Commercial Branding is the traditional techniques of branding a product through advertising, sales pushes and sales promotions. Most of today’s well-known brands like coco-cola, Adidas etc. have grown over the years by commercial branding methods.

Sustainable Branding

Sustainable brands or branding refers to products or services that are branded to signify a special added value in terms of environmental and social benefits to the customer. Sustainable products and services offer an improved social and ecological performance during the whole product lifecycle and at the same time satisfy consumer needs and wants.

The eight C’s of sustainability branding are:

  • Core – Sustainability should be tied to the core business by assessing socio-ecological impact of products
  • Co-operative – It involves cooperation with suppliers, retailers, consumers and other stakeholders to create sustainable product brands
  • Credible – Portraying and living a credible image, not only for the company but also its suppliers, partners and others is essential for sustaining a brand.
  • Consumer Benefits – The Company should advertise the benefits to the consumer like efficiency, cost-effectiveness, status etc. while at the same time aligning the brand to socio-ecological attributes.
  • Conversational – Involve consumers in the creation and growth of brands.
  • Consistency–The sustainability product brand has to be consistent with the overall environmental and social performance of the company.
  • Commitment – Sustainability branding requires the commitment of all concerned with the firm, right from the top management.
  • Continuity–The brand promise and sustainability focus must be delivered and maintained continuously for a long period.

Sustainable Vs. Green Brands

While Green brands mainly focuses on environmentally sound business practices, sustainability brands covers both the environmental and social dimension of sound and ethical business practices while delivering superior products at reasonable prices. It also takes into account the health and safety issues with respect to the product and the well-being of all the personnel involved and efficient usage of all the resources connected with the product. It adheres to the triple bottom line of ecological (environmental), social (equity), and financial (economic) sustainability.

Examples of Sustainable brands

  • By launching Tide Cold Water Detergent, that requires only cold water and thus saves energy, P&G, embarked on its journey of sustainable brands in 2005.
  • Better Place”, is a global provider of electric vehicle networks and services that promotes the use of electric cars. Its name itself signifies the sustainable vision that it has.
  • Honda has ventured into sustainable brands offering Prius as a mile per gallon benefit car while Insight trades itself as being green in the spot.
  • Nike, after being flayed for unethical practices like employing child labour in China, has evolved its product line to demonstrate its sustainable manufacturing.
  • HUL recognises need for embedding sustainability into its brands and has launched new detergent ‘Magic’that claims to reduce water usage by two-thirds, keeping in mind the water supply constraints that India might face.

Advantages of Sustainable Brands

  • Costs Reduction and Profit Rise – The importance of sustainability branding can be compared to the necessity of investing in preventive maintenance than break-down maintenance. Sustainable brands help reduce costs and raise more profits in the long run.
  • Market Opportunity/Advantage - Sustainability branding offers an opportunity to seize market advantage by portraying the overall (360 degrees) positives of the product and its manufacture mechanisms to an ever socio-ecologically conscious consumer.
  • Brand Image – Brand reputation is the most important asset a company has and sustainable brands help in developing a strong brand image. Johnson and Johnson products are today regarded as sustainable brands because of the efforts it has put in in ensuring ethical, social and environmentally conscious practices. Hershey’s, North America’s largest chocolate maker, was criticized severely for sourcing cocoa from West African farms where child labour is widespread and farming practices are environmentally destructive.
  • Seize the Innovation High Ground- Companies looking for ways to be more environmentally, socially and economically responsible will drive innovations in products, services, sourcing and financial acumen. It will also help the company claim patents and royalties. Companies like General Electric have profited by the increasing sales of Compact Fluorescent Lamps in comparison to incandesant lamps.
  • Pull Strategy Demand – There is demand (pull) from the customers for products that are sustainable both in their usage and throughout the different stages of their lifecycle. This enhances the importance of sustainable branding over commercial branding.
  • Distribution Channel – Distribution channels too often go socio-ecologically conscious and decide to sell only sustainable brands through their outlets. Recently Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, announced plans to sell only CFL bulbs through its outlets.  This adds to the pressure of having sustainable brands in your product basket.
  • Achieves the new triple bottom line –Sustainable branding helps attain the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profits, which is the new mantra for a firm’s reputation.
  • Helps develop sustainability culture in the organization – The vision to create sustainable brands in itself produces a culture of sustainable development in the organization that spreads to sustainable models in other areas like supply chain, advertising, production etc.


“Sustainable brands sing when they are delivered with passion, speak to their customers in an appropriate voice, when they embrace true participation, and they never stop evolving. If you think of sustainability as a brand, it will free you up to new possibilities.” -

Branding sustainability is about what you do, and not about what you say and sustainability branding is going to speak volumes, both through sales numbers and profits, for organizations that care for people and the planet.

This article has been authored by Geetanjali Maria from LIBA.


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