In the realm of regenerative capitalism, Conscious Brands has stood as a beacon of sustainability since its inception in 2006. As a founding Canadian B-Corp, we have collaborated with numerous prominent natural CPG brands, infusing sustainability into the very fabric of their organizations. In a landscape marked by the ebb and flow of consulting groups, we have navigated the currents of uncertainty and complexity, especially as more organizations transition toward a stakeholder-driven approach.
By Rob E. Sinclair, Founder at Conscious Brands
Our core mission revolves around guiding organizations in the transition from shareholder-driven governance to stakeholder governance, weaving this shift into the very core of their being. However, the path forward is not always clear, and this article aims to shed light on the intricacies of regenerative brand strategy in an age driven by the impact of conscious brands.
Before delving into the details of regenerative brand strategy, it’s crucial to define sustainability. Over the years, we have witnessed the evolution of sustainability, with trends and the co-opting of terms. In 2008, there was a surge of greenwashing, as we introduced the first on-pack carbon label in North America with Guayaki. Our initial approach was to use carbon as a gateway to sustainability. But what does sustainability truly mean?
When you hear the word ‘sustainability,’ what comes to mind? Perhaps the environment, carbon emissions, green initiatives, or social well-being. Sustainability is a term we, too, have grappled with. In 2017, we distanced ourselves from the term, favoring “regenerative” for a couple of reasons. First, organizations merely focused on sustainability tend to stagnate, merely holding their ground rather than advancing their higher purpose. Second, the common perception of sustainability often narrows down to carbon, leading organizations into a tunnel vision where they fixate on this single aspect. Moreover, describing a relationship as ‘sustainable’ doesn’t exude vibrancy or significance. On the other hand, ‘regenerative’ carries an aura of vitality and the promise of mutual growth.
Sustainability, as we define it, encompasses the full spectrum of impact, based on the Natural Step framework, which examines four key system conditions:
1. Nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances from the earth’s crust, such as fossil CO2, heavy metals, and minerals.
2. Nature is not subjected to increasing concentrations of substances produced by society, such as antibiotics and endocrine disruptors.
3. Nature is not degraded by physical means, such as deforestation and draining of groundwater tables.
4. In such a society, there are no structural obstacles to people’s health, influence, competence, impartiality, and meaning.
This understanding of sustainability provides a strong foundation for guiding organizations toward a regenerative future.
Navigating a Regenerative Path
To engage with a client effectively, we must first understand what sustainability means for individuals, businesses, society, and the Earth. Our approach is science-based and ‘whole-systems,’ ensuring a firm foundation for envisioning future success. The journey begins with awareness: what does the envisioned future look like for your organization? What is your organization’s ‘higher purpose’?
Once the guiding principles are clear, we conduct a sustainability ‘gap analysis’ using the four sustainability principles. This analysis scrutinizes the major flows and impacts of the organization to identify where activities counter sustainability principles. This helps organizations identify critical sustainability issues, their business implications, and strategic opportunities for change. It also aids in identifying creative solutions and devising a plan to propel the organization forward.
However, the path to sustainability can be treacherous. Many management consultants approach sustainability linearly, and organizations often get trapped in either carbon tunnel vision or focus solely on one aspect of their brand’s messaging.
The B-Corp Commitment
As a founding Canadian B Corporation, Conscious Brands has committed to using business as a force for good. We have legally amended our articles of incorporation to consider all stakeholders in every business decision, not just shareholders. When we first became certified in 2010, there were approximately 300 certified B-Corps worldwide. Today, there are over 7,000 and counting, ranging from well-known names like Patagonia and Seventh Generation to smaller businesses like Conscious Brands and even large multinational organizations such as Dannon and Nespresso, a subsidiary of Nestle.
B-Corp certification serves as a valuable tool for measuring a company’s practices and performance in terms of being a force for good. It helps organizations clarify their purpose and principles, ensuring that their practices align with an impact business model. The interplay of purpose, principles, and practices is fundamental to a business’s success.
The Five Principles of a Conscious Brand
At Natural Products Expo West on March 9, 2017, Conscious Brands convened 75 leaders and visionaries for an educational session, “Co-creating an Industry of Conscious Companies: A Generative Dialogue.” In our journey towards a flourishing, responsive, and regenerative society, we have encountered various frameworks such as The Natural Step Framework, Future Fit Business Benchmark, and B Corp certification. Through our experience, we have distilled five key principles of a conscious company, and these principles can be applied to inform sustainable brand strategies:
THIS UNDERSTANDING OF SUSTAINABILITY PROVIDES A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR GUIDING ORGANIZATIONS TOWARD A REGENERATIVE FUTURE.
1. Higher Purpose (Existence for a Reason Bigger than Itself): A conscious brand exists for a purpose greater than its own. For instance, Patagonia Provisions operates with a higher purpose—inspiring and implementing solutions to the environmental crisis. Their brand strategy revolves around making a positive impact on the planet and future generations, influencing their product development, marketing, and supply chain decisions, emphasizing sustainability and environmental responsibility.
2. Transparency and Integrity (Service to Purpose): Transparency and integrity are paramount in a conscious brand’s service to its purpose. Alter Eco Foods, for example, practices transparency and high integrity by sourcing organic, fair-trade ingredients and using sustainable packaging materials. This commitment aligns with their ethical and sustainable business practices and is central to their brand strategy, building trust with conscientious consumers.
3. Stakeholder Awareness (Consideration of All Impacts): A conscious brand is aware of all stakeholder impacts. Stonyfield Organic demonstrates this by sourcing ingredients from organic, family-owned farms. This approach benefits consumers, local farmers, and the environment, shaping a brand strategy that values a broader stakeholder community.
4. Expanding Awareness (Full Scope of Impacts): A conscious brand is committed to continually expanding its awareness of the full scope of impacts. Nature’s Path showcases this commitment by sourcing ingredients from fair trade and organic farms, recognizing the broader implications of their choices on global agriculture and social justice. Their brand strategy champions regenerative agriculture and social justice.
5. Harmony (Moving Toward Alignment): A conscious brand actively confronts disconnects and perpetually strives toward harmony. Seventh Generation exemplifies this by advocating for policies that promote sustainability and fairness. Their brand strategy seeks to bridge the gap between business practices and the principles of social and environmental justice, creating a brand known for its dedication to balancing business success with social responsibility.
Regenerative brand strategy is about more than just sustainability; it’s about fostering a Conscious Brand with a higher purpose that encompasses transparency, stakeholder awareness, expanding awareness, and harmony. These principles are integral to guiding organizations towards a future where they exist for a reason bigger than themselves and make a positive impact on the world. As you embark on your sustainability (regenerative) journey, ask yourself, “What is your organization’s higher purpose, what are the principles that support and guide your purpose, and how is this higher purpose embedded into your practices and brand strategy?” These questions will be your compass on the path to becoming a conscious brand, making a difference in an impact-driven world.