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Deflating Sustainability. 

After a beautiful blue summer break you and I are asking, so where to now?

It is our cultural inheritance; eat loads, head to the beach then wonder what the new year will hold.

After shaking the sand off the towel without covering loved ones, deflating the flamingo before getting in the car we’re feeling pretty chuffed with our selves but you are probably wondering a whole bunch of other things like, what should I be setting my sights on this year for our brand?

Great question! And wether you are the CEO or the brand manager, brand is an ever shifting landscape but one that supports growth in extraordinary ways when we get it right. 

Like our brand landscapes our cultural landscapes are an ever changing thing and it is something I find fascinating. What is brewing out there just off-shore?  

Is it just me or is everyone, no I mean everyone, talking about sustainability all of a sudden? It feels like it has reached tsunami proportions.

If you think it’s time to set your sights on sustainability I am here to tell you you are wrong. It is time to deflate sustainability, like the flamingo. Or rather, set your sights on something more relevant and better placed to position your brand as invaluable over the next few years as we get down and discover how we join business and social and environmental change to get tuff done.

There is nothing wrong with aiming for a sustainable brand, or a sustainable business as long as the bare minimum is what you are after. And as long as you are happy to come to it 10 years too late. Sorry to burst the bubble. 

Let me share something from the writers of the mind expanding book Cradle to Cradle. Twenty one years ago, after designing a progressive framework for design to deal with climate change (and a new Ford Manufacturing plant to boot) the authors noted if someone asked you how your relationship with your wife was and you replied ‘sustainable’ it would not be seen as the benchmark.

Two things in this deliciously simple analogy that have struck me over the years: firstly sustainable is a pretty low aim in this light, and secondly moving towards notions of a relationship with our planet, as this analogy alludes to, is pretty smart thinking.

Sure, sustainable has been a really important *entry level* term in the market which before its introduction in the late 1980’s was pretty bereft of a term that didn’t immediately scream ‘fringe-dwelling tree-climber’. But it needs a good looking at 30 years on.

Sustainability as a brand strategy risks ‘ticking a box’. It’s not much of a differentiation strategy.

Sustainability may be a term your audience can currently relate to, so it has value in that sense. You have to start someone, but let’s not confuse the start with the finish.

If sustainability limits or defines in its entirety, our strategy and the way we relate to our people, both internal and external, then it has the potential to be detrimental in the long run.

‘Not trashing it’ sounds less appealing than ‘leaving things better than you found them’.

It is like the difference between organic and biodynamic.

One doesn’t make things worse, the other leaves things better than you found them.

Brands are the same. They can be just doing the minimum, not making things worse, most likely doing what every other offer in the market is doing. But that leaves a whole lot of potential untapped and it fails to smell the cultural wind.

Your grasp of what is possible in terms of the social and environmental value of your brand is what will set you apart, or not, in the next 5 years.

What is going to set you apart over the next few years is these two things:

  1. How you think about your brand and its capabilities to bring about change
  2. How you think about the future and your role in it.

Can we head towards what our brand generates rather than what it sustains?