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What are the ingredients for creating a sustainable brand?

On the occasion of World Environment Day 2022, reached out to marketers to understand what goes into building a sustainable brand

As the world is becoming more aware of the importance of saving the environment, sustainability is what consumers embrace while purchasing products. Brands are also taking the added responsibility of making people aware of the current situation and adopting a lifestyle that plays a part in saving the rapidly depleting resources.

On June 5, also celebrated as World Environment Day, reached out to experts to understand the concept of sustainability and what goes into building a sustainable brand.

Anika Wadhera

Anika Wadhera, Head - Marketing and Brand Communications at Sirona Menstrual Cups, explained that there are many elements to earning the title of a sustainable brand. The following ingredients are necessary to make the recipe of sustainable brand work, however, it may also need a seasoning of other elements to set the platter right for some individual brands.

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The first thing that brands must align themselves with is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These provide the foundation for a brand with values embedded in sustainability. It is imperative to identify the targets, outline a plan for the brand and create a strategy in alignment with them.  

A sustainable product or service: If a brand is not selling a sustainable product or service, it simply cannot be considered sustainable. Conduct an audit of the current product and processes to evaluate where you stand, if there are any red flags, work on eliminating them. If you cannot operate within this discussion of sustainability, harmonisation of these three pillars is to be considered through the lifecycle of what is being sold: 

Social sustainability: A healthy and cared for society is fundamental to a sustainable society. This is one of the parts of the sustainable frameworks that brands tend to overlook, which is a foundational necessity. 

Economic viability: This is the thread that is most commonly considered in the discussion of a sustainable brand. It entails how the product is produced, distributed and consumed. Organisations must not drive profits at the expense of the exploitation of the workers or the environment. 

Environmental protection: Right from sourcing the right raw materials, to product packaging, brands should adopt environmentally sustainable practices. 

Sustainable disposal of the left-overs of the product: Waste management is emerging as a matter of huge concern. More and more brands are making the shift from single-use plastics to recyclable or eco-friendly packaging. Even the products within the packaging should be ones that can be disposed of without negatively impacting the environment.

Marketing that steers clear of deceptive claims: The educated consumer of today is even ready to pay a premium on products from brands that have effectively proven to be sustainable. Find out what the consumer is looking for and make it happen. But with more consumers craving sustainable products, a few brands also indulge in the deceptive practice of greenwashing. With the marketing efforts, brands need to offer clarity on the practices in place without baselessly claiming to be more ecologically conscious than they actually might be. 

“Sustainability should become a core business value, not just a marketing tool. Brands in line with these four practices usually fall within the spectrum of a sustainable organisation,” Wadhera further said.

Marketing a sustainable brand

There are multiple brands today that are trying to hit the nail on the head and convert marketing to sales through D2C channels. New-age brands are banking on sustainable marketing to lure in consumers.

Monica Bindra

Monica Bindra, Founder and CEO, Laiqa, said, “We believe that sustainable marketing is the process of informing our customers, employees, partners, and others about our commitment to sustainability. Adopting sustainable marketing strategies is a natural fit for us because it aligns with our brand objectives. Sustainable marketing works because it supports the basic values that any company cares about: environmental health, human health, resource security, fair trade, social fairness, and so on. Larger brands are not much behind and also recognise sustainable marketing as the need of the hour. It helps in creating an environment-friendly image of the brand and also attracts new-age customers who are looking for sustainable and organic products for long-term association.”

India as a market is still accepting and making a shift towards a sustainable lifestyle, and consumers these days are more aware of what they should listen to or read, as there is so much noise over the internet.

Shankar Prasad

Since Indian consumers are still accepting the sustainable lifestyle, the challenge for marketers is to induce the feeling in them. According to Shankar Prasad, CEO and Founder of Plum, there are several challenges a brand has to deal with while building a sustainable brand.

He said, “Firstly if you're a small brand, you'll be faced with a supplier/vendor ecosystem that's tuned to servicing large customers. So, it's difficult to get what one wants. Secondly, technically, it's often a challenge to meet consumer expectations of convenience, cost and quality, while driving sustainability. Take plastic tubes for example - they are unmatched in terms of convenience, but current science is not advanced enough for them to be biodegradable or carbon neutral. Even recycling is a challenge. Lastly, sustainable solutions tend to be more expensive than mainstream ones - and whether the consumer is willing to foot the bill is always a question.”

In today’s day and age, adopting sustainability is a learning experience for both the brands and consumers, so there can be mistakes made on either side. While the consumer is confused when it comes to purchasing from a brand due to multiple options being available, on the other hand, brands want to join the bandwagon of selling environment-friendly products, but are they true to their stand? Some of the common mistakes made while building a sustainable brand were explained by a spokesperson from Arata, the haircare brand.

Not introspecting enough: As a brand, you need to ask all the important questions- Is there a demand for this type of product, how is it different from the ones already in the market, and what more can we as a brand do to add value?

Underestimating the competition: Another common mistake that marketers make is underestimating the competition. The idea is to play strategically in terms of quality, price, and most importantly, innovation. Brands need to ask themselves, 'what more value are we adding?'

Not considering customer feedback: Customer feedback is crucial. Not listening to what people say about your product can be the sole reason why a particular brand/product fails. Reading reviews on e-commerce sites and social media platforms is a great way to know what others are saying about your product and how you can make it better.

Not adapting as per demands: Change is constant- and every brand needs to be ready for whatever challenges they face. Especially in the beauty and personal care industry, there are new trends every day, and as a brand, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way.

Wrong pricing: Pricing too low may result in more sales, but can only give average profit, but pricing too high will attract only a niche set of customers. The key is to find the balance and charge accordingly.

The future of sustainable brands in India 

Ashith Sashidhar

Ashith Sashidhar and Divyashree J, Co-Founders of Secret Haircare, said that the future is a vast canvas that we all have to paint together as custodians of an awake nation.

Divyashree J

“As living beings, we need an overall shift towards sustainability to survive. Various principles of sustainability are deeply rooted in many Indian cultures and the rise in conscious sustainability in the country calls for all commercial establishments to take up a sense of preservation and responsibility toward the declining ecological state of our country. Companies must continuously innovate to reduce their carbon footprint and actively enrich the environment. Businesses must look past short-term profits and tackle long-term initiatives that support their communities. What India needs is mindful and deliberate utilisation of its natural resources as this holds the potential to drive economic growth through job creation and technological innovation, thus putting our country in the best position to combat climate change and maintain ecological sustainability,” they said.

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