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10 Qualities That You Need To Create A Sustainable Brand

How can you make your company a good corporate citizen. These tips, gleaned from this year’s Sustainable Brands conference, are a good place to start.

Carbon emissions are rising, biodiversity is declining, access to water is getting more and more constrained, and equity imbalances become wider. While individuals set forth to adopt new, purposeful ways of living, the challenge is for corporations and brands to change as well to help people live more sustainably.

According to the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR study, consumers now expect companies to be an active participant—if not a driving force—in solving social and environmental issues.

At this year’s Sustainable Brands conference, you could find answers about how brands can evolve in order to thrive in the 21st century and meet the needs of today’s consumers. Here are 10 factors that drive sustainable brand success.

1: Innovation can be a tool for optimism

Brian Welch, author of Beautiful and Abundant, and publisher of Mother Earth News, says that our species is capable of mind-boggling innovation:

"There is an opportunity to engage our imagination and help our species adapt to change through innovation," says Welch. "If there is only one species in the universe that can conceptualize impact, and we are thinking about this for the first time. How can we be pessimistic?"

Challenges can drive our intellectual curiosity and inspire imagination and vision for a more sustainable future.

2: Core values should be your #1 driver

With a vision for a prosperous future for humanity and all the living things we share the planet with, Welch thinks it’s possible to create a new economy by adopting a new set of values.

Tensie Whelan, President of Rainforest Alliance, notes that there has been a shift: consumers are looking for more. Citizens are "looking to connect with something bigger" and it’s up to brands to help them take steps to do something different.

By partnering with Rainforest Alliance, brands have the opportunity to adopt a sustainable model for doing business, creating an opportunity to tell a more engaging story that involves how lives were changed and how the environment was positively affected.

3: Living systems thinking means everything is connected

By turning to nature for answers, we learn that everything is connected. Ashley Cooper, co-founder of The Mycelium School for emerging thought-leaders, stresses the importance for an understanding that we are connected to a complex system much greater than ourselves.

By mimicking nature and working together, it’s possible for corporations and individuals to move things forward.

This self-cooling desert house, inspired by snails, is a good example of biomimcry.

4: Not every decision should be based on financial return.

Bob Willard, author of The Sustainable Advantage, says that "genuine wealth is built on more than just financial capital." We’ve entered a new era in which a new definition of success must includes the triple bottom line: profit, people and the planet.

The damage we’ve done was the result of an unsustainable model of doing business. A new capitalism 2.0 creates "the need to cultivate respect, humility, fairness and giving back, to each other and to nature."

5: Doing things the right way is different than doing the right things

Just because a way of doing something is efficient, doesn’t mean it’s effective. Visionary William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle and The Upcycle, says our role in society needs to involve "redesigning our activity to improve the planet—not just sustain it."

"It’s about endless resourcefulness, not just the elimination of waste," says McDonough. To create a revolution, we need to redesign systems and products that don’t fit into this model. "You can’t reduce, reuse, and recycle something that isn’t good to begin with."

6: Look at limitations as a source for creativity

Phil Hansen, a multi-media artist, challenges business to think more than just outside the box to inspire creativity. After being diagnosed with nerve damage, he was no longer able to fulfill his dream as an artist as he originally imagined. After rethinking and challenging the norms, he discovered that "a limitation can be the ultimate liberation."

There are always creative alternatives where there may be a roadblock. By embracing limitations and turning to alternative materials and methods, you can discover a new creative process.

7: Humor can be a door opener

Sustainability and social issues can be a very serious, but "authenticity can be authentically boring," said Whelan of Rainforest Alliance. She describes the three key attributes to creating demand for product is to use "humor, authenticity, and engagement."

This ad offers an example of the Rainforest Alliance’s use of humor:

8: Transparency

The documentary The Naked Brand explores how advertising is changing, from presenting fiction in order to sell more to presenting real facts about a brand. Because we are all now connected through social media, expert reviews and mobile advances, when brands behave badly, consumers talk. Transparency is key in connecting with today’s consumer.

Here’s a clip from the movie, featuring Alex Bogusky on the future of responsibility:

9: Embrace issues before others point them out for you

To help solve the problem of cigarette butts polluting the environment, Terracycle partnered with tobacco companies to create a recycling program, embracing a partner often shunned by the sustainable community. But together they created the "butt box" to allow people to recycle butts, solving a major trash issue (Terracycle’s goal).

The trick, as Tom Szaky of Terracycle says, is to be upfront with the public about your issues and how you’re solving them: "One of the most important things brands can do is acknowledge they have an issue and say what they are going to do about it. … This is empowerment."

10: Know your story

Simon Mainwaring, author of We First shared how many companies don’t know what story they’re trying to tell. Brands need to have a "distinct point of view—all before the telling," says Mainwaring.

If the story is human, it will open up the door to authentic conversation. "Content has to be innately shareable," says Mainwaring.

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