Reflections from Sustainable Brands 2018 Vancouver

by Amy Jude Uhl

The Brand Stretch Opportunity

Conscious consumers — those who intentionally make purchase decisions based on health, corporate social responsibility (CSR) or earth consciousness — have plateaued in number. They continue to comprise 43% of all consumers, but as a group, their numbers are not moving.

Of course, it is essential for sustainable brands to retain their loyal consumers. But how can companies reach the 57% of consumers for whom sustainability is not the primary driver and increase profitability while staying true to their principles? Or as Alex Thompson, VP of Brand Stewardship and Impact for REI, put it, “We’ve won the game of purpose-led thinking and business; we have to get past this conversation. What’s next?”

Brand stretch may be the answer if you’ve effectively reached the 43% of consumers who are naturally attracted to your product and are seeking ways to bring in others. A key step is to evaluate the possibility of extending your brand into spaces that allow for growth without diluting your company’s core values and vision. 

Live Your Purpose Out Loud

Eighty percent of consumers are loyal to companies they believe in. But CSR has to be authentic to your brand and embedded into your business in order to have a meaningful and lasting impact. By understanding your social purpose, you can raise your brand.

In 2016 Target experienced concerns with traffic, sales and market share. They were missing the “Tar-zhay” magic. So in addition to remodeling stores and refreshing their brand portfolio, Target reimagined sustainability from a singular to a comprehensive focus. Among other efforts, they began offering “affordable happiness” by absorbing the higher cost of sustainably produced goods rather than passing it on to customers. And they renewed their “passion for purpose” by supporting kids’ adaptive clothing designs with zip-off sleeves and side/back openings for special needs kids under their private label Cat & Jack.

Is it time for a CSR refresh for your brand? Can you move from a singular focus to one that is comprehensive and authentic across your company? How can you communicate your values and attract more like-minded people to your products?

ROI Shouldn’t Matter, But it Does

Sixty-six percent of consumers say they will pay more for sustainable products. And while most traditional brands have been losing market share, retail sales of 1,300 recorded sustainable products are up by more than 4%. Sustainability needs to be authentic to your brand, but you are a business after all. And while you strive to go beyond profit, profit is required to keep you in business.

Whirlpool is an example of authentic, business-minded sustainability. Its innovative Care CountsTM program installs washers and dryers in schools. The company uncovered a link between clean clothes and school attendance, and they’re making a measurable difference in children’s lives. The Whirlpool team believes the program’s positive impact on business will be realized by increasing the purchasing intent of consumers. Check out their story.

What steps are you are taking to promote your CSR efforts to consumers? How are your efforts translating into ROI? Where are you missing the opportunity to engage and solidify the loyalty and relationship of consumers who believe in your values and your product?


Amy Jude Uhl is Director of Business Development for Deskey. She is the client partner who just “gets it.” Beneficiaries of her insight include Merial, John Freida, ProAmpac, Southern Company, Tucson Electric Power, Comcast, AT&T, Disney Studios, HBO, Belcan, Nitto Denko and Kentucky Purchasing Co-op.



Top photo: The Sustainable Brands podium, made entirely out of reclaimed wood, is a centerpiece at SB conferences worldwide.

Middle: Doug Studer and Amy Uhl completely immersed in SB's 2018 theme “The Good Life."

Bottom: Alex Thompson, REI, challenging us to #optoutside and connect people with nature.

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