Sustainability will soon be the norm – is your business ready?

12/19/2016 04:45 pm ET

The growing community Sustainable Brands has a mission. They want to prepare companies for a future where sustainable consumption is the norm. But what does that mean, and what does it require from us as business leaders?

A few months ago, I presented Sprout to an international conference hosted by Sustainable Brands, a global community for companies whose mission is to develop and strengthen sustainability in their brands.

It was their fifth yearly conference in Europe, and this year it was held in Copenhagen – one of the most sustainable cities in the world.

Sustainable Brands was founded back in 2006, by the female entrepreneur Koann Vikoren Skrzyniarz, who started organizing conferences about sustainability back in the 80s. Today her community holds an impressive network of world-leading brands such as Coca-Cola, Ford, Unilever, AirBnB, Philips, Toyota, Procter & Gamble, Novozymes and the chemical giant BASF.

Koann Vikoren Skrzyniarz’ mission is to help decision-makers shape and improve their sustainability strategies, in order to better navigate in what she calls “the shift to a sustainable economy”. She is convinced that brands without sustainability as part of their business, won’t survive in the future.

I agree with this forecast. Although there are still a tremendous amount of companies throughout the world, particularly in developing countries, that make profits based on polluting and unsustainable businesses. However, if you look at the big picture, there is no doubt that they will eventually have to turn green.

We can’t play a waiting game

If they don’t, they’ll get punished by the future consumers, especially the younger groups: millennials, who prefer brands with a bigger purpose and the wish to make a difference. As modern business leaders, we cannot play a waiting game. We have to be razor-sharp in our focus on making a difference, no matter how big or small it is.

The internet has created consumers that are much more aware of what they want and how products are made. This requires transparency in how companies communicate and produce. And the sustainable branding requires substance, because no one wants to buy green air in a bag.

What is your bigger WHY?

It is not only me who believes that we are heading in that direction. More and more brands have developed a bigger WHY, that reaches far beyond their core product.

For instance, think about these international, profitable brands who are all making a difference.

Dove, who, with great success inspires millions of women around the world to a higher self-esteem. Puma, who has made sustainable shoe bags instead of normal boxes. H&M, who gives out gift certificates if you hand in your used garments for recycling. IKEA, who has an ambitious goal of having their furniture made from recycled and recyclable materials. Coca-Cola, who has the goal of saving water in their production, supports women’s position in developing countries, and sponsors local events that encourage a more active lifestyle. Starbucks, who hires disadvantaged young people and help them get back on track.

If sustainability is not the norm now, it will be soon. We - especially business leaders - might as well get used to it. And prepare a plan.

I notice that sustainability is on the agenda of many companies, but I also know the challenges when it comes to implementing these good intentions.

That is why a network of companies with the same interests is priceless – a network, where you can inspire each other, and discuss the challenges that will undeniably occur. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a network solely focused on sustainability---any local networks that share the same goals and visions can provide the same positive outcome.

The green train is leaving – have you packed your bags?

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