As the recent COP27 Summit outcomes reveal, sustainability is no longer an option for the world – it is imperative. Keeping this concern in mind, brands need to renew the focus on leveraging innovation to provide sustainable products or services that facilitate a reduction in their overall carbon footprint. 

By maintaining a hawk’s eye on consumption and investment patterns too, brands can enhance their sustainability quotient in sync with long-term green goals. Accordingly, at all times, organisations must maintain compatibility between their corporate objectives and the sustainability mission for the greater good of the planet and our future generations.

Fostering sustainability through collaboration 

With environmental problems like global warming, climate change and pollution continuing to pose a monumental threat to our ecosystem, it is time for brands to analyse and re-evaluate their outlook towards sustainability. Hence, it is consequential for brands all over the world to invest in innovative solutions that promote sustainability.  

However, half-measures or an one-size-fits-all model won’t work. Instead, a cohesive, coherent strategy is needed, along with a detailed roadmap to meet long-term sustainability targets. To successfully drive the twin engines of innovation and sustainability, brands must integrate long-term SDGs as a part of their business strategy from the get-go. These objectives can be further achieved by encouraging close cooperation among diverse departments such as R&D, marketing, distribution and sales. The ultimate objective should be to promote a company culture that takes into consideration the future of the planet with a focus on collaborative, sustainable practices.

Moreover, the focus on reducing carbon footprint needs not be restricted only to products or services. One can also scrutinise the organisation’s internal operations to curb the carbon trail. For example, brands could shift to using solar, wind or green hydrogen since these can meet the challenge of limiting their trail of GHGs (greenhouse gas emissions) during operations. 

Though some of these measures can increase operational costs, these will be offset by gains in the sustainability quotient. Nonetheless, for brands in ultra-competitive markets such as FMCG goods and personal care products, the higher compliance costs of carbon mitigation goals may need to be balanced with bottom-line concerns. This can be an issue especially when an environmentally-aware organisation is willing to bear the higher compliance burden but competitors don’t do so, putting pressure on the green organisation’s margins.

In such scenarios, there are two potential solutions – institutional and individual. In the first case, it devolves upon the Centre and regulatory authorities to provide a relatively-level playing field through curated government policies and reforms that offer ample incentives and disincentives for compliance and non-compliance, respectively. Such an institutionalised policy will provide pull-and-push factors for corporates to embrace carbon-neutral tools and technologies. 

The second individual solution concerns the strategy that complying organisations adopt to neutralise the cost advantage of non-complying players. The best way to achieve this is by creating and capitalising on a responsible and sustainable brand image. Today, consumers worldwide are more environmentally conscious than ever before. As a result, ESG (environmental, social and governance) metrics are gaining greater traction across boardrooms globally as they realise that adhering to these norms is not merely common sense, it makes business sense too. 

Organisations that can enhance their brand image via sustainability and ESG metrics could then garner greater market share and brand loyalty in the long run. In such situations, it can be safely assumed that the non-complying companies could soon be afflicted by FOMO (fear of missing out) if there is any erosion in their brand value. Considering these circumstances, a corporate strategy based on sustainability can offer manifold benefits – both tangible and intangible. 

Some of the tangible benefits of an eco-friendly brand image could be the ability to scale up easily and the opportunity for premium pricing, particularly for brands that offer a plethora of benefits and value. But for companies that are in their comfort zone and feel no need to allocate funds for driving product innovation and sustainability, a word of caution is in order. 

Levering eco-friendly innovative practices

In the era of digital disruptions and periodic innovations, domain leaders who don’t deploy financial and human resources for sustainability R&D run the risk of being left behind in the wake of new-age entities for whom constant innovation is a mainstream mantra.  

Brands all over the world are realising the receptiveness of consumers in opting for eco-friendly products or services and are innovating to discover creative solutions that limit their environmental impact. As per a recent report from Bain & Company, at least 60% of consumers in the country are ready to pay a premium for sustainable products. This indicates that sustainability is not just a rising trend, but the future of brands is entrenched in innovative solutions that promote ideas of sustainability. For example, Colorbar recently launched its sub-brand Co-Earth which promises sustainable, performance-driven products that are gentle on the environment.  Co-Earth has joined hands with wildlife organizations to conserve endangered species, every purchase will contribute a percentage to the causes related to elephants, one-horned rhinos, leopards and bears. Initiatives like these are a welcome change as consumers become more conscious about the implications of their choices on the world. 

However, brands willing to capitalise on this rising trend should note that going green cannot be viewed as a quick-fix marketing policy. Rather, the ethos and values of sustainability should be embedded in the brand, products, processes and operations. If these norms are not followed diligently, companies run the risk of being singled out for greenwashing claims. Therefore, every step of the green process must be scrutinised from an environmental angle. 

To ensure approaching sustainability along the right tenets, it is recommended that brands manufacture products that are designed for long-term use/reuse, are refillable, devoid of harmful material and packaged with biodegradable, eco-friendly material. While following these measures isn’t obligatory, adhering to these guidelines can put a brand on the path to contributing towards a circular economy and provide a stronghold for its reputation. Meanwhile, another key element to boost credibility is to get the specific green product or service certified through the relevant regulatory authority. A green certificate from the right authorities has dual benefits – validating claims and allowing an edge in brand building and marketing. It will also send out a strong message to all associated stakeholders about the brands’ ethics and social responsibility. 

As mentioned earlier, half-measures will not work. The imperatives for tilting towards innovation and sustainability have never been more stark and straightforward. Traditional approaches to business practices are bound to collapse sooner rather than later.  However, it is equally important to understand that every brand has its own sustainable journey. Change can only be manifested over a period of time. The objective must be to create an ecosystem wherein innovative solutions pave the way towards creating a societal impact that compels others to adopt sustainable practices.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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