Sustainability Is More Important Than Ever

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 indicate 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.

6 comments about "Sustainability Is More Important Than Ever ".
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  1. Bill Byrne from Remedy PR, May 27, 2009 at 2:40 p.m.

    Great piece David.

    I work with a few brands in the sustainable and green space (ranging from furniture to action sports related products) and have another point to add.

    Being green for the sake of being green won't necessarily boost sales. While some people gravitate to the "crunchy" aspect of green/eco-friendly products, many seem to be turned off.

    As companies develop more environmentally conscious products, they should keep in mind that to ensure consumer acceptance, a product will need to function as well as and look similar to their non-green counterparts.

  2. Alphonso Whitfield from Advanced Internet Technologies Inc., May 27, 2009 at 2:40 p.m.

    Your article/blog is right on target. Here at AIT and our "green company" Environmental Sustainability Group (ESG), the alignment of our corporate operating and business model with the efficient use of resources was easy and made sense. For AIT our technology company it is imperative that each day we evaluate ways to reduce cost by saving energy to cool our data center which allows us to keep our pricing competitve in spite of increased core energy costs. Within ESG we distribute eco-friendly janitorial and industrial supplies products for use at home , business and industrial environments. For us environmentally friendly equals sustainability and profitability.

  3. Tilly Pick from Development Practice 360, LLC., May 27, 2009 at 9:38 p.m.

    All makes sense, totally agree and 100% supportive. Tough thing to me is that it's even more important to get the mass audience to care. I just came back from shopping for groceries at Market Basket (big, value-oriented grocery chain in the NE that actually has good stuff). A few months ago people brought their own bags made from recycled material or canvas etc. Today most of them are back to the convenient norm. "Paper or Plastic?" Reality is that doing things that are good for our world requires a little effort and patience. That means you have to care. Seems to me that Step 1 for all of us is to rally together to create real, sizeable and sustainable demand. Once we collectively succeed with that, the economic case for sustainable products etc. becomes easy. No?

  4. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, May 29, 2009 at 12:52 p.m.

    In the same way that marketing to women need not be explicit in most cases, so should "marketing green" be a transparent endeavor. I agree with Mario about this. Just do it and those who are seeking it will definitely find you.

    And, to David's 4th point - both B2B and B2C realms do benefit from a more sustainable orientation, because no business decision maker can truly be isolated from who he/she is as a person (and the values they hold). Behind every single brand out there are human beings making decisions who have been uniquely influenced by their own life experiences. Great article.

  5. Christina Cottingham from Fair Trade Sports, May 29, 2009 at 10:39 p.m.

    I think that consumers, even in these economic times, see the value in buying green and fair trade products. We offer fair trade products that guarantee that the workers who make our eco-friendly sports line of balls are paid a fair wage, and that is important to consumers. Stop by our blog at if you care to learn more.

  6. Doug Levy from MEplusYOU, June 4, 2009 at 6:26 p.m.

    Some may think that a focus on sustainability is a luxury – something that should only be done in good times when time and money are in ample supply. When approached as charity, sustainability is just that.

    But, what about sustainability as a core part of a business? What if a broad focus on multiple stakeholders (employees, investors, customers, society, suppliers, etc.) is a key part of what propels the success of a company or a brand? In that case, maintaining a focus on sustainability in the midst of an economic challenge may be just the ticket out of it. Not to be confused with environmental sustainability or being “green,” when we talk about sustainability, we’re primarily referring to relationships between brands and people that exhibit high levels of both transactions and trust—the two essential components for long-term survival and growth.

    This article, while speaking primarily to the benefits of embracing corporate environmental sustainability, has some pretty consistent parallels with the larger sustainability movement. So does a powerful book called Firms of Endearment, which concludes that companies that consider multiple stakeholders “engender such loyalty and a sense of common cause with their stakeholders that they seem far better able to withstand market downturns that their competitors.”

    What are your thoughts on sustainability? We’d love to hear your thoughts on imc²’s website (

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