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What Does a Sustainable Brand Look Like, and Why Do We Care?
By Logan Coffman

The word sustainability is tossed around so frequently by the increasingly eco-conscious that it is becoming a candidate for Buzzword of the Year.

But what does “sustainable” actually mean in our consumer-focused world? How does a company successfully capture and reflect the characteristics of what modern-day consumers consider a sustainable product? And why should we care?

Current sustainability certification models contain guidelines filled with “bureaucratic fluff” that take on what a recent article from Greenbiz.com calls a “tick the box” approach. For example, a tobacco company or coal burning energy conglomerate can seek to effectively nullify the negative impacts of their core business by checking off a long list of positive criteria—marketing campaigns highlight happy workers in the coal burning power plant, or tout how much the palm oil company that is destroying rainforests gives back to local communities.

And the opposite is also true. As eloquently stated by Hank Campher in another Greenbiz article, “just because a product delivers a positive good does not mean that is a sustainable product. You can create a wind turbine by using slave labor, conflict minerals and dodging taxes. That makes the product itself of great value to society but the value chain impact is horrendous.”

Fortunately, the tide is turning. The Steve Jobs inspired product-centric revolution is slowly starting to trickle down across industries. The most important thing is to focus on the innate value of the core product itself, and then examine the value chain across the life-cycle of the product. The solution is to center attention on that which matters most—the purpose of the product.

Why is this important? First Affirmative agrees wholeheartedly with Tensie Whelan, President of the Rainforest Alliance, who has said that “consumers are less willing to pay more for sustainability: increasingly, they just expect and demand it.”

The expectations of millions of people are perhaps the most powerful motivators of policy and practice. Environmental and socio-economic sustainability are becoming closely linked. Now, as consumers, we must shift our attention to what we buy and how we consume it. It’s no longer all about the money…


At First Affirmative, we understand that the ways we save, spend, and invest can dramatically influence both the fabric and consciousness of society. We believe that in addition to the benefits of ownership, investors bear responsibility for the impact our money has in the world. Are you making conscious decisions about the impact of your consumer purchase and investment decisions?


Posted: June 30, 2014