Brands must lead the way

Brands must lead the way

Businesses have a leading position in the sustainable transition: they have the innovation power and creativity to make it happen!

“Help! The world is on fire. We drastically need a mass consumer movement to save the world. People around the world are calling on consumers to use their buying power to drive the transition to a new economy. A better world starts with consumers.” Right?

Although we cannot completely disagree, we would like to state that customers may drive change, but brands must take the lead. 

Don’t wait for the consumer to change 

Consumer pressure always helps. We applaud that more and more consumers are choosing sustainable products, and being critical towards brands that do not take their responsibility seriously (enough). But right now, only a small group of consumers is what we like to call “dark green”. There is a much bigger group of people who are not so easily involved in conscious consumption. In the first place, not everyone can afford a sustainable lifestyle (today). Others may simply be too critical, ending up in endless discussions about different sustainable options, that in the end they get stuck and do not make a choice at all. And if, after a while, we have convinced these people as ‘citizens’, we have another hurdle to take: we must also convince the “consumer” in them. If they are at the counter, ready to check out their sustainable products, yet other motives will come to play. At the same time we should not kid ourselves thinking that consumer pressure is the biggest driver for companies to put impact first in their business. There are always (geo)political drivers, such as subsidies, tax relieves or regulations, that can drive or prevent change to happen. 
Also take into account that we are only talking about the Western consumer here. Just think about all middle class consumers in emerging markets in the world. These consumers are spending and buying and consuming, not thinking about sustainability, but about their own well-deserved wellbeing and comfort. How are we going to bring aboard this group of consumers? 

Brands must take the lead in sustainable system change 

We do not have time for this indirect approach of consumer activism to stimulate sustainable change in business. There are plenty of other incentives, beyond ‘the typical’ brand reputation and increased market share KPI’s. Everyday we see brands profiting from attracting and retaining talent (hotel chain Zoku gets more than 50% of their solicitors via the B Corp community), building long-term supplier relations (also with declining orders, their suppliers in India were willing to produce for one of our fashion clients), being ahead of regulations (think about Tony’s Chocolonely’s Child Labor Due Diligence Act in the Netherlands), and attracting investors. These stakeholders do not have to be convinced anymore. They are already playing their part in the much-needed sustainable system change. 

In the end, consumers can call for action, ask critical questions, or even boycott brands, but the real responsibility and power to act lie with the brands themselves. Businesses have a leading position in the sustainable transition: they have the innovation power and creativity to make it happen. If all brands would hold themselves accountable and would start creating positive impact, consumers can just walk into a shop without having to ask if what they buy is ruining or contributing to the planet. Brands would have already taken care of this, as they consider it their responsibility. This is not a wish list but a reality check, because the consumer of tomorrow is getting more critical and better-informed everyday. 93% of Gen Z says if a company makes a commitment, it should have the appropriate programs and policies in place to back up that commitment.

How to lead real change?

Talking about responsibility. Companies know best what is happening in their operations and in their supply chain. So they are the best positioned to make change happen. 

Sustainability is not rocket science, but to be able to make the right choices, you have to know what is going on, identify risks and seize opportunities. 

As a company, you know how to influence how value is being distributed in their supply chain. Like coffee brand Bocca does: they want to pay the real price for the coffee they sell – based on the real costs price calculated by their farmers. This way, they ended up paying more than 50% extra for their coffee compared to the fair trade price at that moment.  

As a company, you can tap into the local reality of the makers of your products. What jewelry brand ‘A Beautiful Story does: working on their producers’ financial literacy so these people can use the living wage they earn to create a future for their families. 

As a company you can bring a complete new, circular business model to the market, like ‘MUD jeans’ does by introducing a complete lease-a-jeans model. 

As a company you can make decisions about the materials you use for your products. Like ‘Noppies’ – the Dutch babywear brand – did. In a period of two years, almost 100% of their baby collection is made with GOTS certified organic cotton.

Your knowledge of your product, your production process, and the risks & opportunities in your supply chain, put you in the position to make real tangible plans and formulate actions. As a company you can make real change happen. 

And then, while working on this impactful change, you can share your story with your consumers. They will positively reward you for your actions – for sticking out your necks and change the way you do business. Hzow? By being loyal, being an ambassador, asking the right questions, sharing your story and liking you on social media. 

But remember, only the ones that are actually interested in sustainability will listen to you and applaud your efforts. The rest will just buy your products – like they always have – just because they like them; they buy the quality; an inspiring story, a certain look. But now at least you know these products have been made in a fair and environmentally save way. 

Your consumers may give you a warm welcome and embrace opportunity for change, but you must take the lead. Better start today!