Sustainability – The longest 4-letter word in the beautiful world of Brand?

If you’re in the business of trying to bring sustainability alive in the branded world try this simple test…walk into a room full of your most excited and highly creative brand people while they’re cooking up mischief for some exceptional experience, wait for a pause in the mayhem, and then quietly ask how you might build sustainability into the brand’s DNA and watch what happens.

Exactly. Sometimes the response is pure WTF. Or perhaps a begrudging flicker of ‘so what’. Often: panic, confusion. And very often: a barely disguised spiritual belch of disgust.


You discover that it is, in fact, surprisingly easy to offend supposedly liberal, creative, groovy, open-minded people. Especially if they think you are about to rip all the joy out of their hash-tagged, socially delicious, film-cum-installation-art meets football-crowd creative piece. Do good doesn’t always feel good to brand people. Often it represents the satanic polar opposite, which in itself constitutes a smallish challenge for the future.

But it would not be the first time that do-good has been accused of being the murderer of exceptional creativity. Music has fallen foul of this particular tension on many occasions. For example, some still argue (regardless of Band On The Run being one of the most successful albums ever and Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance coming from one of the seminal albums of the last 30 years) that Helter Skelter, I am the Walrus, Eleanor Rigby and the White Album were infinitely purer, more rarified musical creations. The toxic ingredients that soiled the former? Do-good, be-nice: world peace, vegetarianism, and the dark cowl of optimism, damn them.

But given that sustainability is something that every brand we’ve ever loved and will love has to embrace, to ensure that it and we still happily exist in a hundred years time, this is something that needs to and is beginning to change. In fact, sustainability should provide one of the biggest most exciting playgrounds possible for creative people. Also, if creativity and sustainability were harnessed in such a way as to drive real, long-term value into the brand and business, perhaps the spectre of shrinking revenue and shrinking influence might be put to rest for while. Which is not only good for the brands, but also for their agents in the world. And Sustainability needs all the exceptional creativity it can get to turn it from a niche conversation amongst activists and experts into a human living wonderful thing – to elevate and illuminate the topics in such a way as to make them mean something to the average person in the street, supermarket, travel shop, boutique, chemist and fashion store for all our sakes.

So how do we get those creative brand people not only to stay in the same room but truly engage and more often? It’s not as if do-good or societally orientated stuff doesn’t elicit some amazing creative results. There are, in fact, many exceptional examples where something rooted in a cause or the pursuit of societal improvement has delivered amazing creative materials – in both standard ad world thinking as well as in the socially connected, highly networked world beyond the fringes of the TV poster and print execution.

Blood Relations

by Saatchi & Saatchi is an amazing idea, with the sole objective of diffusing the internecine hatred of the Middle East at its boiling point between Israeli and Palestine.

Fiat Twin Air’s Twin Acts of Friendliness

also by Saatchi & Saatchi, takes the promotion of their eco-friendly petrol car into a social experiment, crowd-sourcing ideas for a road-trip around the Netherlands.

So, the next time you choose to do the equivalent of breaking wind in the halls of the mighty and bring up sustainability in a room full of creative brand people, consider this…do-good in brand strategic and communications terms is only boring when it is unenlightened and handled with po-faced rectitude. Handled with humanity, humour perhaps, and with panache, it can supply creative people with the kind of meat in the brief we’ve spent the last 3O years having to make up half the time.

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  1. Teresa Foster, Tue Mar,06:

    I pitched the PSP model to the State of Colorado’s Governor’s Energy Office to develop a strategy for State employees to engage in sustainability activities (I did this as an intern in 2009 for the Greening Government program manager).

  2. Caroline, Wed Mar,07:

    I agree, let’s make sustainability hedonistic! See my post here: http://www.saatchisblog.com/2011/12/22/perspective-design-for-behavior-change/

  3. Gemma, Wed Mar,14:

    Remember in high school when our taechers would drill into our heads, cite your sources! ?Well, it’s the 21st Century now. Has been for a little while, I think. Nonetheless, I think most people would agree that taking others’ words (music, whatever) and *presenting it as their own* without permission or attribution is, well, wrong. Note the subtle shift in mindset it’s no longer the taking of someone else’s intellectual property that is taboo, it’s the giving of it and passing it off as your own.So, what’s the solution? I think it’s actually pretty simple now:

  4. amit ganguly, Mon Mar,26:

    I believe Sustainability can be integrated with any existing Business models or Brands. For that matter the operations itself form a major portion of any brand.Sustainability can built into operations by following certain basic principles.Like wise Sustainable product design is also an upcoming field, in which Brand managers can focus.


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