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Stop Talking About Sustainability

Sustainability is a buzzword.

By Steven Picanza, Co-Founder and Chief Strategist Officer at Lating & Code

It’s no better than ‘fat free’ or the ‘lite’ products that seemed to define the 1980’s and all the fad diets out there. Marketing at it’s finest as it defined categories customers still use to this day. Unlike those fads and trends of yesteryear, the impact sustainability has on not just the economy, but on the health of every living being, including our mother planet, is immeasurable and shouldn’t be looked at as “greenwashing” or one of those trends.

The stakes are too high to just talk about being sustainable. Action is needed and to be successful, it starts from the brand level. Brands need to broaden their horizon and realize we’re not just talking about the environmental implications, but also on the societal issues that arise.

And with societal and environmental changes, shifts, and possible catastrophes comes economic implications. When the inevitable shit does hit the fan, it’s the brands that truly live up to being sustainable that will survive and take their tribe with them. Not the ones who only talked the talk.

The great Philosopher King Marcus Aurelius has a quote I try and live by that resonates here.

“Stop talking about what a good man should be. Just be one” - Marcus Aurelius

Adapting this to the role of brand strategy and sustainability, it might sound like:

“Stop talking about being a sustainable brand. Just be one”

Changing a few works and the reverberations project deeply. With the constant barrage of content and messages, brands screaming features and benefits, and everyone seemingly trying to become TikTok famous, brands need to work that much harder to break through. To matter to their audience.

At the core of this statement is the idea that sustainability starts with strategy and not buzzwords. You cannot layer a sustainable effort on top of a bloated strategy or out-of-tune business model and expect your audience buy in immediately. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to be sustainable as a business because doing so is the equivalent of slapping lipstick on a pig. It’s see-through and we all need a constant reminder that a brand is not what we say it is, it’s what they say it is.

To be sustainable, there needs to be a massive mindset shift from the inside out. All facets of business from supply chain to infrastructure, product design to packaging need to live by a sustainable-first strategy. The brand culture needs to have this mindset ingrained and be reflected with every touch with every customer, employee, partner, vendor, and investor.

Starting from the inside out also means the brand strategy needs to be refined and adapted to meet the demands of a conscious and aware business. Mission, vision, and purpose should reflect the foundational business decision of being sustainable, and a brands core values should bring these back of house fundamentals to the front of house.

So what does this ultimately mean? As Morning Brew, the popular financial daily newsletter recently pointed out, brands need to stop “pledging” and start doing. “Companies like Visa, Apple, and BP have all pledged to go net-zero in the next 10–30 years, but critics have pointed out that there are no set standards for net-zero and carbon-neutral emissions. And carbon offsets can be seen as a cop-out on actually reducing emissions.”

This essentially is saying that brands can make these pledges and draw their own ‘sustainable’ line in the sand because at the end of the day, it’s all just words and clutter with a lack of action.

Instead, operate like the Philosopher King and just live it with every action and statement you put out there.

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