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Why sustainable brands will thrive over the next decade

Why sustainable brands will thrive over the next decade

Consumers now want to buy from brands with heart, values, and authenticity. They want the brands they buy from to be a force for good, says Marga Hoek, a global thought-leader on sustainable business.

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Last year the US Business RoundTable – a group of 181 leading CEOs – redefined the purpose of a company. They stated that maximizing shareholder profits could no longer be the primary goal of organizations. Businesses were urged to begin considering the planet and their workers, alongside the pursuit of profits. The message is clear: companies must aim to have a positive impact on all the world’s assets.

Businesses will fail in a world falling apart due to climate change. Inaction on climate breakdown and a rise of six degrees Celsius will result in a $13.8tr of loss - roughly 10 per cent of all manageable financial assets of the world. But this isn’t just about risks. It’s about opportunity, too. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - laid out via the Paris Agreement to pave the way for a better world - are set to unlock $12tr new business opportunities globally by 2030.

Business for good is also good business. Sustainable brands are now outperforming others. Returns on sustainable business cases are getting better by the year or even the month, with businesses working against climate change performing almost 20 per cent better than their peers. In more than 90 per cent of consumer packaged goods categories, sustainability-marketed products grew faster than their conventional counterparts. They accounted for 16.6 per cent of the market in 2018, up from 14.3 per cent in 2013, and delivered nearly $114bn in sales. Companies must act. They must adopt a wider purpose and a long-term perspective.

Consumers demand sustainable brands

Consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable brands. As new generations become the largest portion of consumer markets the success of sustainable brands will only grow. By 2025, millennials are predicted to comprise 75 per cent of the global workforce and labor markets. They demand purpose-driven companies as employees and they do not accept non-sustainable practices from companies. Studies show that 79 per cent of millennial employees are loyal to companies that care about their effect on society while 75 per cent of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable products.

Consumers want to know their purchasing habits are having a positive impact on people and the planet – not just on a company’s bottom line

Generation Z, entering the workplace and consumer market right after them, will continue to demand action. A recent McKinsey study showed that 90 per cent of Gen Z expects brands to take a responsible approach to societal issues. Companies will need to respond rapidly and at scale to survive.

Consumers now want to buy from brands with heart, values, and authenticity. They want the brands they buy from to be a force for good. They want to know their purchasing habits are having a positive impact on people and the planet - not just on a company’s bottom line.

Create a sustainable brand personality

So how can companies transform into sustainable brand personalities? Through action, not words. In the digital era, transparency is essential, whether you like it or not. Brands build consumer trust by ensuring end-to-end transparency and being upfront about information concerning production, pricing and policies. And, most importantly, by taking actions that are a clear result of a sustainable brand personality. Here are eight key ways to do this:

1. Embrace green tech

Technology will be the biggest accelerator for sustainability in the next decade. Every company, regardless of the sector, needs to go tech. Small and big data, robotics, AI, drones, and other innovative technologies offer new pathways to sustainability.

2. Go plastic-free

The anti-plastic sentiment is higher than ever before. Inaction means there will be more plastics in the sea than fish by 2050. Consumers will demand more recycled packaging, sustainable supply chains, and a no-waste policy. To stay relevant companies need to respond rapidly.

3. Create a sustainable business plan

Assess everything from supply chains to office buildings to products to technology – where is your business having a negative impact on the planet and how can you change this? Create a sustainable business plan, set sustainability targets to reach by 2030, and drive change within your organization.

4. Sustainably source all your materials

Make a commitment to source all your raw materials from more sustainable sources and reuse these materials in the creation of new products – moving towards a circular economy and a more efficient business model.

5. Reduce your CO2 emissions

Transport goods via ships, not planes, run trucks on renewable fuel, swap international business trips for video meetings…the ways you can do this are endless and are crucial to brand image. In Mexico City, one hospital has even designed its building to transform air pollutants into harmless chemicals such as water – neutralizing the pollution of 8,750 cars a day.

6. Attract next-gen talent to grow sustainably

Millennials and Gen Z are key drivers for sustainable change. As employees, they demand purpose-driven companies and do not accept non-sustainable practices. Sustainability will be key to attracting next-generation talent and in turn, this talent will be key to driving sustainable growth initiatives within your organization.

7. Take responsibility for the whole of your product’s lifecycle

Take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of your products – from designing and packaging to shipping to minimizing the impact a product has on the environment while it is in use, to how it can be recycled after use.

8. Cut your energy usage

Make simple changes – ensure all office lights and computers are turned off overnight, pick more energy-efficient office tech, install solar panels. But also think widely – can you cut down the amount of energy it takes to manufacture your products, for instance? This has the dual benefit of making the process more cost-effective too.

Those brands driven by purpose will be on the winning side of business in the next decade. Business for good is good business. Brands must adapt and thrive, or deny and die. The change we’re seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg. The future of all of us and thus of business relies on our joint ability to transform. Tackling the challenge means new opportunities for growth and innovation. The 2020s will be the decade of the sustainable brand.


Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. For more information go to

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