Standing out from the crowd with a brand-led approach to sustainability, by Landor & Fitch’s Luc Speisser

Luc Speisser, global chief innovation officer at Landor & Fitch

Sustainability is now more than a buzzword. The recent Leaders’ Summit on Climate, attended by the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the UAE from the region, for example, has underlined the importance of concerted government action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Not surprisingly, businesses too have embraced the sustainability factor in building their brand narrative. Every brand of repute now talks about ‘going green’, ‘giving back to society’ and embarking on the ‘journey to net-zero.’

When everyone discusses the same goals, what comes through from the market landscape is a green sea of sameness. Few brands stand out in their sustainability narrative, and many appear to have simply latched on to the bandwagon for fear of losing out.

We need to stop looking at sustainability as a cost and start looking at sustainability as an investment that needs to deliver ROI.

To do so, we need to look to the power of a brand to really differentiate in today’s world, with today’s consumers. Through a brand-led approach, a business’s sustainability investments can resonate and generate impact in its own distinct, unique way – and thus create ongoing brand preference and brand value.

Prioritise ESG

Companies must prioritise and make an impassioned case for investing in environment, social and governance (ESG) communications and brand positioning. And this is clearly an area of focus here in the region; with the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Institute’s recent ESG virtual event shining a light on the progress and potential power of ESG in driving forward a sustainable future.

The Three Ps – People, Planet and Profit – are at the heart of ESG. It is the fundamental purpose of the sustainability goals and that does not change. Strangely, the last ‘P’ – Profit –is yet to be considered properly across companies’ sustainability strategies.

Any brand action, to make a real change, must put the interests of the Three Ps as the top-most, if not the only, consideration. Once these are built in the values of a brand, they naturally flow and filter through all areas of the business; from operations to working culture. And the rewards reap themselves long-term.

Shift the mindset

It’s also a case of shifting the outlook, the energy, the mindset. A big issue for the leadership teams of today is that they scrabble around so quickly to meet quotas and agendas that the company mindset is almost always compliance-led. Then we’re back to the same problems: The commitments are just grey tones in a world of black and white. No brand stands out and so no brand benefits.

But we all know that unicorn companies (companies valued at the $1 billion mark), start-ups and fintechs all have a challenger mindset. It’s what helps them to break new ground and disrupt traditions to show the world there is another more efficient and profitable way. Today, new companies are created with sustainability at the core.

This mindset only goes so far of course. Simultaneously, a bespoke strategy needs to activate this across a mix of activities that are right for the brand, right for its consumers – and not just the usual box tick list of pledges or mass marketing. At Landor & Fitch we use sophisticated market data modelling to plan how a brand can effectively optimise its sustainability approach and activity in a way that is distinct to the brand and serves the business ambitions.

Creativity & Innovation

Once a business has set its ESG, mindset and strategy up in a way that is unique to its brand, the next, most impactful, step is how it can then be brought to life to resonate and carry the business into the future in the most exciting (and profitable) ways.

Extraordinary creativity is required.

Depending on where the company is on its sustainability journey, it can always be built to ‘be good’ through the lens of innovation: whether that’s transforming an existing brand, or creating new sustainable brands for a select category or business model.

For the former, our 20-year journey with bp towards brand-led sustainability epitomises this transformation.  We captured this revolutionary vision through creating a new brand platform, Beyond Petroleum, and launching the brand values of innovation, performance, progressiveness, and respect for the environment. We elevated sustainability to live at the heart of bp’s brand.

For the latter, we partnered with Coty to create WeDo, its first sustainable-at-heart beauty brand that connects with Gen Z. A new brand which considers sustainability at every touchpoint, ensuring everything it does and sells is an optimistic act of kindness. The product formula is not just cruelty-free and good for clients, but it’s also good for the hairdressers’ hands using it every day. The packaging is made from recyclable materials, and its website is designed to run with less energy.

Just as businesses compete to be the most desirable, sustainability is key leverage for brands to demonstrate leadership and point of difference. And this is how sustainability becomes a profitable investment, not just a cost — in turn becoming truly sustainable for businesses.