Sustainable Branding

With natural resources running out, the environment going down the drain, and the younger generations demanding ethical, transparent, and environmentally respectable businesses, the time for businesses to start doing sustainable branding has already begun.  Not only should companies transition to a sustainable model because it is the morally and ethically right thing to do, but because there are profits to be had.[1]  While many companies have already started reimaging themselves as ethical, transparent, and environmentally conscious, there are many companies that have yet to get on the bandwagon.  Every competitive business that does not currently practice sustainable methods will have to change soon if they want to stay competitive in the quickly emerging ethics driven market.[2]  This is a hopeful sign that the future of consumerism and our capitalist society are heading in a better direction.

Josh 1

The game of branding is starting to shift toward companies having to be transparent, ethical, and environmental conscious as demands are changing.  A brand at its core is a promise, but it also much more than that.  Brands carry deep meaning and transfer information, context, and purpose from one human to another.[3]  Brands therefore have a huge impact on our society, and thus can be used to have a positive one.  “If knowledge is to be turned into insight and thence into smarter decisions, then responsible brands must be there to guide and inspire us.”[4]

Here Come the Youngsters

Much of this new demand for ethical and environmentally responsible businesses is coming from the younger generations.  While the Baby Boomers started calling more attention to environmental issues, through the actions of starting the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, etc., baby boomers are more driven by convenience and trends.[5]  However the younger generations, especially Y and Z are showing a lot of potential for driving businesses to be more ethical and environmentally conscious.  Most of generation Y, born between early 1980s and early 1990s, grew up with the internet and have been able to be much more connected to the outside world and receive more information faster than ever before, which has allowed them to be more skeptical, critical, and conscious then the previous generations.[6]  Today, “many schools have signed the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, and legions of students are engaged in newly created environmental studies programs and campus sustainability initiatives.”[7]  All of this demand came from generation Y college students.

Generation Z is even more connected through the Internet and extremely aware of environmental and social issues.  Those of generation Z were born into a more environmentally conscious global community and have been exposed to learning about environmental issues at a young age.[8]  This generation, more than the previous ones, is going to put a lot of pressures on the government and businesses to change their practices for the betterment of our global society and environment.

Third Way of Branding

While brands have traditionally focused on making the largest profits possible for their investors, now a more multi-stakeholder approach will have to be taken to survive in the market.  “Historically Marketers developed products that met consumers needs at affordable prices and then communicated the benefits of their brands in a memorable way.”[9]   However, today consumers are starting to demand that the brands they support start living up to environmental and ethical standards.[10]  These new demands being placed on brands/ businesses to redefine their values and to live up to them, has made room for a new style of branding.  This so called Third Way of Branding will require companies to, “learn to respond to present relationship threats and opportunities, while remaining focused on a clear and harmonizing purpose.”[11]  The era of just returning profits to shareholders is coming to and end, being replaced by a system where ethics, transparency, and environmental justice take center stage.

Swim or Sink

If brands want to survive in the future, they must act before generation Y, Z and younger generations become the dominant consumers in society.  These younger generations are looking for brands that have deep value systems and are transparent.[12]  If companies do not start to realize that the younger generations are demanding brands to become more ethical, there is little chance they will stay around much longer.  In addition to these new ethical demands, it appears that generation Y is less forgiving than former generations.  “As an honest brand marketer will tell you, brand loyalty is now longer an inheritance.  It has to be re-earned every day.”[13]  While companies reimage and create new brands, they are going to have to keep this in mind and work hard to live up to their ethical standards each and every day to maintain consumers loyalty.

We are now entering the age of green consumerism where sustainable and ethical products are going to win out.  These changes in consumer behavior are being brought on by deep psychological and sociological shifts, which will require companies to fully commit to ethically green all of their products and communications.[14]  Companies are going to have to get on board if they have not already and make their businesses more dedicated to sustainability and environmental stewardship.  “Under the new rules of green marketing, yesterday’s resource-intensive products are being replaced by eco-innovative ones with radical new designs and technologies.”[15]  Companies must make these environmental standard changes as soon as possible to thrive with the new emerging consumer base.


If brands want to exist and thrive with the new wave of consumers, they are going to have to become ecologically and socially responsible corporations.  The younger generations are already putting a lot of demand on brands to become more transparent, and socially and environmentally ethical, and as they age more pressure will be added.  Jack Yan notes that the new type of brand needs to be an ‘activist brand’ and that, “Since tomorrow’s consumers are unlike today’s—or, rather they are a sophisticated evolution of today’s—then organizations need to reinvent themselves so that they can attract what will be the largest and most influential group: the ethical socially aware, information-rich Gen Yer.  Doing so requires plenty of attention on the brand: understating and forming a true vision, expressing it accurately and living every ethical promise it makes.”[16]  With the younger generations putting a lot of pressure on companies to shift their practices to be more transparent, ethical, and environmentally friendly, there is a lot of hope that consumerism is going to change for the better in the near future.


[1] Angeliki Christodoulopoulous V. Kumar, “Sustainability and Branding: An Integrated Perspective,” Industrial Marketing Management, Georgia State University, Georgia: January 2013, 16.
[2] Nicholas Ind, Beyond Branding: How the New Values of Transparency and Integrity are Changing the World of Brands, Kogan Page Limited, Virginia: 2003, xvi-xvii.
[3] Tim Kitchin, “Brand Sustainability: It’s About Life… or Death,” Beyond Branding: How New Values of Transparency and Integrity are changing the world of Brands ed. Nicholas Ind, Kogan Page Limited, Virginia: 2003, 71.
[4] Ibid., 71.
[5] Jacquelyn A. Ottman, The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding, Ottman Consulting Co., California: 2011, 5.
[6] Ibid., 6.
[7] Ibid.,
[8] Ibid., 7.
[9] Jacquelyn A. Ottman, The New Rules…, 43.
[10] Tim Kitchin, “Brand Sustainability…”, 73.
[11] Ibid.,
[12] Jack Yan, “The Brand Manifesto: Why Brands Must Act Now or Alienate the Future’s Primary Consumer Group,” Beyond Branding: How the New Values of Transparency and Integrity are Changing the World of Brands, Kogan Page Limited, Virginia: 2003, 200.
[13] Ibid., 204.
[14] Jacquelyn A. Ottman, The New Rules…, 44.
[15] Ibid., 45.
[16] Jack Yan, “The Brand Manifesto…,”218.

252265_10200463540022880_342241652_nAbout the author: Josh Zahrbock is a senior Justice and Peace/History double major and Environmental Studies minor at the University of St. Thomas

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