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Why Build Sustainability Into Your Business?

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Here’s a summary of the notes I prepared for the Brand Licensing 2007 panel I spoke on. Not too sure how it went down, everyone made a bee-line for everyone else at the end. Maybe I talk about stuff people don't want to hear...

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 4 october 2007


Take a cue from American Apparel. Its tag line is ‘Made In Downtown LA’ but behind the brand are modern business practices that weave a story about the brand (visibly and invisibly) – local production, ethical staffing, organic sourcing, issue conscious and great products. There’s a perception in licensing in particular that packaging needs to be big to command a higher price. Look at AA – they sell a bright T-shirt on a hanger for a premium price – no packaging necessary.

Take cues from companies like Patagonia who recycle and reuse. Their ‘recycle your underwear’ campaign brings fun to a serious development in their business.

Look at small retailers for cues on how to build sustainability into your business – businesses like the T Salon in Chelsea Market or the green bakeries in Manhattan. They look at local versus organic supplies, use wind-power, they compost their waste, they recycle, they re-use, they use cleaning products with little or no chemicals, they use potato based cutlery and plates, they create systems that use and reuse water efficiently, they use sustainable bamboo and other materials in their stores.

In LA, visit Mamas Hot Tamales and talk to the ladies who make your tamales. 50% of the profits of each sale go back to the person who makes your tamale. As many of the cooks are poorly educated immigrants, they create a learning program to educate their staff.

Marks & Spencer’s walks the fine line of wearing green on your sleeve and building it into your product. What I like about M&S is that they’re trying. They’re transparent about their faults and they want to make change. They also see offsetting as a last resort. Remember Diana from Clownfish’s great quote, “Carbon Offsetting Is The Morning After Pill of the Eco Movement.”

I’d argue that a brand’s role is to change your behavior, your suppliers, your staff and even inspire your consumers to change theirs. Instead of getting customers to all drive to your store, pick their products, then carry them home – why not bus your customers to your store, let them pick their products then ship the purchases from a central depot on a fleet of vans that make multi drops and therefore enhancing their efficiency.

Also, consider a move from product to service. How can your customers share your products and therefore maximize the products life and minimize costs of production – and increase profit. Or use the waste streams of other companies to produce your own goods.

Finally, realize that sustainability is not the Holy Grail. Ray Anderson of Interface Carpets believes that the ultimate goal is to actually put more back into the world than you take out. It’s an idea that is echoed in a recent article in Fast Company where Mike Butcher, the VP of design at CocaCola, says that he’s working with Yves Behar on macro packaging ideas to not just in terms of sustainability but to add something back to the planet.

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