The New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference Measures Up

How would you recognize a truly sustainable business if you saw one?

That was one of the more ambitious questions at the New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference, hosted by Sustainable Brands in Philadelphia. Luckily, each of some 30 sessions during the conference Tuesday and Wednesday offered pieces of the complex answer.

One tactic of the sustainability movement is to persuade, cajole or force businesses to recognize the value of measuring sustainability by showing how it impacts their bottom line. One of the chinks in the armor is corporate risk management.

With more than 2.6 million credit ratings in play at one time, these ratings have an enormous effect on shifts in market value. As long- and short-term environmental risk management grows in importance in credit ratings, the conversation will necessarily change.

Before that happens wholesale, there are still many new metrics arguments to be made that help CEOs, CFOs and CMOs see intrinsic and extrinsic value in more sustainable business practices. The refreshing aspect of the conference sessions was that hard facts and data were behind every attempt to quantify sustainability gains — and quantify the value of measuring them — in business activities. The frustrating aspect was that many of the proven, reliable measures and initiatives in place today are still slow to transition to the mainstream.

The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia was a fitting venue for the third year of this Sustainable Brands forum, given the school’s motto, “Laws without morals are in vain,” and the fact that the school is my alma mater. Jeffrey Smith, partner at Crowell & Moring law firm and Advisory Council member of SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), added another layer by quoting Penn’s founder, Benjamin Franklin: “The great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.”

Read the rest of my article on here.

Check out the conference presentations here.

Also, think about reading this book: How to Measure Anything, subtitled “Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business.”

Finally, a favorite quote of mine from Galileo…

“Measure what is measurable, make measurable what is not so.”

Lending a Helping Hand for Innovation

The payoff for a packaging innovation is almost impossible to quantify beforehand. Nevertheless, truly helpful ones, like this great example of a trigger sprayer incorporated into a bottle design, courtesy of Packaging World.

Innovation is not easy. It’s usually very hard. It’s not a flash of inspiration out of the blue. It’s a flash of recognition after 1,000 other ideas hit the cutting room floor. But when it connects with consumers at an intuitive level, the package itself can become the biggest marketing asset that brand can leverage.

The Wet & Forget Shower Cleaner succeeds on many levels. The trigger is functional and appropriate. It’s easy to remove from the handle and easy to install. The cap doesn’t even have to be removed, saving one small yet significant step. But maybe most importantly, shoppers “get it” right away standing in store aisles.

The biggest hurdle to innovation is not the creative spark. Instead, it’s managing the usually-too-many cooks that tend to spoil the stew. Ideally, all the cooks should have cross-functional capabilities that make communicating between departments efficient and effective. In addition, establishing a chain of command is essential to get the recipe right.

But always start with consumers. What are their unmet needs? What could make life easier for them? What new value can you add? Only then can you determine what innovation might mean in the real world.

Here’s a list of things to consider when developing an innovation mindset that I put together for Packaging World magazine. This article was pulled from a series of “Playbooks” I wrote and edited that came out in April 2013. Check out the “Package Development,” “Labeling,” and “Flexible Packaging” editions for more brand and package development tips from yours truly.

Good and Good for You…Cheerios

Studying the history of heritage brands always turns up some odd plot twists. Cheerios, for instance, first built its point of differentiation around taste and convenience. Over the years, the brand position has moved with the times, and is now firing on many “healthy” cylinders simultaneously. Its authentic positivity, resolutely stated, has kept the brand highly relevant through the years.

“Heart-healthy” has been a main product feature in recent decades, but the brand has not always fully embraced what has become a matter of fact. That is, for the many parents who avoid processed foods for infants at all costs, Cheerios is the first packaged, branded product that those parents trust.

The brand is returning again to that message on several levels. First, with a “controversial” TV ad that should not have been controversial in this day and age. More engaging on a personal level, though, is a bold new packaging campaign that breaks convention with a spare back panel on Cheerios boxes. Words like “Trusted” and “Smile” are writ large and centered on a wide yellow field that glows ever so slightly behind the text.

The “Trusted” box proudly states: “Tried and true, Cheerios is the first finger food so many moms trust for their little ones.” The “Smile” box says: “Perfectly familiar and crunchy, there’s something about the taste of Cheerios that kids never outgrow.” These messages are authentic and resonant to brand loyalists as well as consumers that may be thinking about returning to the brand.

The original “Cheeri Oats” recipe was 75% ground oatmeal and 25% corn and rye flours. Today, the first of seven total ingredients (only seven!) is still whole grain oats. The oats are now combined with corn starch and wheat starch, and just a little sugar and salt.

The convenience angle in the early days was that kids and adults could get their morning serving of oats without having to cook them. That should make the whole family cheery! The brand promise was in the brand name, deftly combined a few years after its introduction into one word, Cheerios.

Dropping the “oats” from the name was a tradeoff. It served one targeted purpose for the times, as it downplayed negative associations with healthy food to compete head-to-head with sweeter competition. Yet, in the long run, it negated a broader gain, that of its hearty, healthy position. The brand would have to wait for the culture pendulum to swing back before pushing that benefit hard again.

I may be an anecdotal anomaly, but I didn’t realize the relative healthiness of Cheerios until my toddler’s doctor approved of the cereal. This was a funny realization after eating and loving cooked oats for breakfast… for decades! For whatever reason, the oats connection in the “o” of Cheerios didn’t come through to me, an oats lover.

Nevertheless, Cheerios succeeds in many positive messages, whether it’s a heart shaped bowl on its front panel or a campaign that promotes reading at a young age. One last positive, sustainable message on the package is given rather low prominence, at the bottom of one side panel. In a small rectangle, the text says:

Our Mission is Nourishing Lives
We guarantee your satisfaction with the quality of our products, and we are committed to nourishing lives, to protecting our environment, and to giving back to our global communities.


Cheerios through the years

Sustainable packaging initiative video

National Cereal Day

A Conflict of Two Branding Maxims

I’ve always been a conflicted person. Passionate on the inside, but reserved on the outside; Cautious in the long term, yet impulsive in the short.

Like anybody, I love a good aphorism or maxim. But what happens when two of your favorite maxims come into direct conflict?
Maxim #1: “Look before you leap.”
Maxim #2: “He who hesitates is lost.”

What should I do? Is there a compromise here? The corollary to #1 to make it more compatible with #2 would be: “But don’t look too long.” The corollary to #2 to make it more compatible with #1 would be: “But if you’re you’re near a cliff, some hesitating and looking would be advised.”

With branding, the warning against leaping without looking is a serious one. Critical mistakes are made when making changes just for the sake of change. The warning against hesitating is a warning to avoid “paralysis by analysis.”

Many consumers probably don’t notice that packaging “refresh” design campaigns happen all the time these days. For instance, without thinking, guess which of these two packages is the “old” and which is the “new.”

To combine the two maxims in a less-absolute, more reasonable fashion, one might say: “He who hesitates is lost, but take a quick, deep look before you leap.” When to revitalize branding and packaging is a critical business decision that should be analyzed through many lenses. This takes time and discipline—and patience.

Of course, product or packaging innovation that creates new value requires a leap of faith. Finally, getting it done in the real world requires management and political skills.

Here’s a list of things to consider when revitalizing package designs that I put together for Packaging World magazine. This article was pulled from a series of “Playbooks” I wrote and edited that came out in April 2013. Check out the “Package Development,” “Labeling,” and “Flexible Packaging” editions for more brand development tips from yours truly.

The Pen Is Mightier Than…

…well, a lot of things, actually. A sword, for one, metaphorically.

In this case, the B2P “Bottle 2 Pen” by Pilot is mightier than the virgin plastic industry. The B2P pen is made from recycled plastic bottles, and proves that the performance of a plastic product need not be compromised when using recycled content.

Though the package is pretty heavy with marketing, a combined graphic and structural element tells the whole story quickly. The right side of the package features an image of a plastic bottle, and the die-cut edge follows the contours of a “typical” plastic bottle. I’m sure many consumers get the product concept at the very first glance.

But the package backs up the concept with plenty of benefit statements. The first hurdle of many eco products is to reassure shoppers new to the product that it works just as effectively as established, non-eco brands. The performance benefits follow category conventions to downplay any doubt. “Smooth Writing,” “Comfortable Grip,” and “Refillable” could be found on any pen package.

Top of the package, though, is a differentiator to get shoppers excited: “World’s First Pen Made From Recycled Bottles!” Placed on the “shoulder” of the picture of the bottle, the claim adds legitimacy, as does the B2P icon/logo. The power of icons on packaging is undeniable; however, more is not always better. Discretion is the better part of valor and the like, and but that’s a topic for another time.

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