Sustainable Brands ’12: Inspiration Grounded in the Real World

The first week of June in San Diego was an exceptional congregation of thought leaders sharing their insights and successful case studies of sustainability and corporate social responsibility that have been widely successful.

The conference drew about 1,400 attendees eager to learn more about how to implement sustainable production and marketing strategies. The tagline was on target and timely, “The Revolution Will Be Branded,” as President Clinton echoed the same sentiment recently.

Videos of the main stage plenary speakers at SB 12 are here.

My part in the proceedings was bringing together four packaging sustainability experts:

Jon Dettling, managing director US, Quantis
Michael Dupee, VP of corporate social responsibility, Green Mountain Coffee
Arnold Barlow, senior manager, sustainable solutions, UPS
David Lear, executive director of Corporate Responsibility at Dell Computers

Each relayed how their companies strive to create efficient shipping practices by finding the sweet spot between product protection and reduced, or more sustainable, materials. I added a few comments to the proceedings, shared here:

Sustainability is not a new movement in the packaging world. In 2005, when architect and sustainability visionary Will McDonough spoke at the first Sustainable Packaging Forum in 2005, in Philadelphia, he challenged the packaging industry to rethink everything. At the time, I was Editor-in-Chief of Package Design Magazine, and it was certainly a significant event. At the same event in 2005, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition launched the first draft of its ambitious sustainable packaging definition. It was 10 pages long then, which gives you some indication of how the seemingly simple concept of packaging can turn complex very quickly.
Secondly, With the scale of packaging for fast moving consumer goods, small, incremental changes can make large contributions to sustainability goals. That’s why many consumer goods companies first looked to more sustainable materials as an easy way to move the needle. But, as our panelists will discuss, now the industry understands that more often the conversation should be about supply chain efficiencies.
And thirdly, Working so much inside the branding industry for the past 10 years, I always have to remind myself that most of the public thinks of a product and its package as separate things. However, For many consumer goods that you find in grocery stores and drug stores, this is simply not true. In consumers’ subconscious, the package is the brand and is the product. This has actually been proven in several different ways, though we don’t have time to go into that here.
But because the package is the brand, any change, however small, comes with risk.
Beyond all that, I know packaging is powerful media that can change attitudes, create expectations, and expand use occasions. It can be marketing both with words and marketing without words, and it can change behavior not just by verbally convincing users to change behavior, but by the design itself, often intuitively.
Burt’s Bees is a great brand model to learn from. The “The Greater Good” is a trademarked brand promise, and the company created a flow diagram is to show the most green consumer how the company views the interconnectedness of the well-being of all their constituents, as they call them. Which is, well, everyone.
And they use sustainable packaging as a marketing benefit. Even though sustainability symbols have become alphabet soup to a degree, certification and symbols still convey believability and credibility. They certainly push the limits of consumers’ ability – or you might say desireto process all of the information.
Sustainable packaging mission statements are always complicated. What’s important to note here is Burt’s Bees stresses “Systems” twice – finding the best systems and searching for new systems. As we all know now, it’s not just about recycled materials and recyclability.

Sustainable Brands Conference 2012

The Intersection of Branding and Marketing: Guest Blogging at Talent Zoo

Fewer Posts here have been due to increased posts at, where I took a Lead Blogger role temporarily. My catalogue is here.

One blog I particularly enjoyed writing was the debunking of a Harvard Business Review article debunking marketing myths. The blog is titled: “HBR Article: 77% of Consumers Don’t Want Brand Relationships?!”

The HBR article, “Three Myths about What Customers Want,” researchers at the Corporate Executive Board company try to debunk three marketing myths. Myth #1 in the article is “Most consumers want to have relationships with your brand,” which is certainly up for debate.

The biggest issue that may have skewed the research results is the fact that they asked such an obvious question in the first place. A series of related questions that probed habits, values, and desires might have been much more revealing. Consumers are not good judges of their own motivations. The 77% may “say” they don’t have relationships with brands. But what they actually do in real life would probably reveal a different story.

That complete blog post, with more detailed analysis, is here.

I will continue to define the new age of branding and marketing both on this platform and at