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Our company just launched "MapChange2010", a new study comparing the real efforts that brands are making in fighting climate change, and the perception consumers have of those brands. From this study emerge our "5 C's of Sustainability Branding." By Marc Stoiber


Not surprisingly, the results are surprising. Across every sector (we studied 10 of the largest consumer-facing sectors in North America), there's a disparity between what brands are doing and what consumers think they're doing.

Brands that do the most often get little credit from consumers. And brands that are ho-hum in their climate change performance often look like heroes to consumers.

Apart from making an interesting read, there's something in this study to be learned. These are major brands, betting big budgets on their green work. So what can we glean from the winning and not-so-winning efforts? What can we apply to our own green brand building efforts?

We distilled our learnings down to a formula that brands could follow in greening themselves - a formula that would help them be less harmful to the environment and more attractive to consumers.

We called it the 5C's of sustainability branding - a tool that could help reduce your nascent green brand's learning curve.


  • CONSUMER-FACING - Not sure what to do first? Look at what the consumer is looking at. There are plenty of ways to improve corporate sustainability, but consumer-facing changes will have the most immediate impact on your brand's public perception. Think of Method's Omop, with its compostable / recyclable bamboo and paper packaging - it stands out like a beacon at shelf, where consumers can really notice the difference.

  • COMPETITIVE - To compete, brands must innovate. And in the 21st Century, the best innovations will have strong sustainability credentials. Concepts like GE's Ecomagination are just the thin edge of the wedge. With price and quality being equal, the competitive advantage will go to brands that differentiate themselves with sustainability features.

  • CORE - Tying sustainability to a brand's core business is another way to ensure it resonates with consumers. If your brand sells hamburgers, effective brand sustainability strategy would focus on hamburgers (organic beef or recycled wrappers, for example). Car brands must focus on making more fuel-efficient, cleaner cars - not saving the rainforest. If you do something that is unrelated to your core business, you risk alienating or confusing your consumers at best - and having them holler 'greenwash' at worst. Brands like Clorox Greenworks hit this one on the mark.

  • CONVERSATIONAL - Sustainability branding is more effective as a two-way conversation, rather than a one-way announcement. Honesty and transparency go a long way with consumers. Disclosing what you're doing well, and what you could be doing better, will instil trust…and trust breeds loyalty. Inviting consumers to participate in a conversation about your process will further strengthen the brand-consumer relationship. Think of Patagonia's Footprint Chronicles - an online tool that helps consumers understand Patagonia's strides in making their shirts and pants more sustainably…and see the environmental shortcomings of Patagonia's products as well.

  • CREDIBLE - Sustainability strengthens brands. But greenwashing, even if unintended, can do a brand serious harm. The good news is that this is avoidable. The key is in sequence. As long as your sustainability efforts are in place, functioning and measurable before being announced, they will be viewed as credible. And proven, objective credibility - when paired with innovation that excites and communication that clarifies and engages - is the key to sustainable brand success.



Marc Stoiber is President and Founder of Change, a green innovation brand agency in Vancouver, Canada. He would welcome your comments at

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