Maxine Perella and Sustainable Brands
Published 2 years ago.
About a 8 minute read.
Image: P&G's "It's Our Home" campaign highlighted small actions at home that can make big sustainability impacts | P&G
On the final day of SB’21 San Diego, a diverse array of keynote speakers
explored some of the many ways in which storytelling can be a powerful tool for manifesting the future we need.
On Thursday morning, the final day of SB’21 San
Bruce Reynolds — Social Impact and Brand Marketing Specialist at Be the
Change Associates — introduced stories as a potentially powerful mechanism for
creating our preferred future.
Reynolds invited the audience to turn to their neighbor and ask why they are
here at SB’21 San Diego. “In being here, our lives are telling the story that we
are here for sustainability,” he explained. What story is your life telling for
future generations? What stories are being told by your companies’ action?
Looking at the three-pillar model of sustainability, Reynolds focused on the
social pillar, which he said requires unity, equity, inclusion and harmony. “We
need to usher in something new, with 100 percent positivity and full throttle to
increase unity and understanding.”
Unlock customer insights on sustainability & your brand’s unique performance! Submit your brand (or any brand) into the 2024 annual study and receive unparalleled insights on customer perception of that brand’s performance. Benchmark how your customers rate your brand on social and environmental sustainability and overall brand trust, while seeing how your brand compares to others in the study. Space is limited! The deadline to become part of the study is January 15, 2024.
An example of something new is International Black Heritage Month, which Reynolds launched in June. This year, the focus was on Africa, with carefully
curated stories — including using fashion to tell the story of the African
Reynolds stressed the importance of understanding the cultural groups that make
up a business. Otherwise, how can there be true diversity and acceptance if they
are not understood?
Exploring the social constructs around gender and identity can be a minefield.
While gender and identity can be life affirming, even lifesaving for some, it
also comes with potential perils such as community exclusion or polarization.
Learning to understand this complexity and the role it plays in our lives is
becoming an imperative for inclusive company
And if storytellers can embrace this human complexity, they can heighten their
impacts. “We can use storytelling as an act of love and regeneration,” noted
CEO of Reimagine Gender.
She said that this requires “telling the story of who we are, not only what we
are” — in other words, moving from types and categories to essence, and from
issues and problems to potential.
Kenney pointed out that gender identity and social constructions have been
created for a reason, with minority communities forced to spend a lot of their
time justifying why they exist. “What has been constructed can be recreated or
dismantled,” she told delegates. “We need to generate hope.”
Fridays for Future's Joe Hobbs, XR Youth LA's Dilan Gohill, International Indigenous Youth Council's Alexis Saenz, XR Youth LA's Aidan Liss and BBMG's Raphael Bemporad
As the next generation beckons for brands, Raphael Bemporad, founding
partner of BBMG, spoke of the need for radical renewal. He highlighted
research that showed 60 percent of young people under
want the post-COVID recovery to prioritize restructuring the economy to deal
with inequality and climate change.
With young people feeling the intensity of discrimination, unemployment, mental
health and human rights abuses to name but a few, Bemporad said that society was
living in the space between stories. “What got us here simply isn’t what we need
to get us where we need to go.”
Inviting a group of youth leaders and climate activists to the stage, Bemporad
asked them what they thought brand leadership means, and what expectations they
had. The main calls to action that emerged were for companies to listen and
— particularly from young people — rather than just lead; and to recognize that
greenwashing ultimately doesn’t wash, particularly when marketing budgets
outspend the actual project.
Stephanie Perdue, VP for brand marketing at Chipotle Mexican Grill, then
spoke of how her company is helping the next generation of farmers thrive by
supporting them in building careers in agriculture.
“The average age of a US farmer is 59 years old,” she told delegates. “Young
farmers trying to get into the US agriculture sector have a ton of barriers,
such as lack of access to land.”
Not only is the company offering employees the chance to get free degrees in
Chipotle has committed $5 million for young farmers over a five-year period, to
help support their transition to organic farming. “We look to see if we can
establish long-term contracts with the next generation of farmers coming
through,” Perdue said, adding that the company pays a premium to source new
ingredients that have been produced to higher standards.
Prakash Arunkundrum, head of global operations and sustainability at
Logitech, ended the first plenary session with a talk on how his company is
in a way that is very consumer-facing. Logitech claims to be the first consumer
electronics company to commit to providing detailed carbon impact labeling on
its product packaging. By thinking of carbon as a calorie, Arunkundrum said,
such messaging becomes easier to convey to people.
Logitech has also created an online platform to help consumers understand the
carbon impacts behind the products they buy, at each stage of the product
journey from sourcing and manufacturing through transportation to use and
“If we can measure it, we can improve it. We wanted to be held accountable to
our carbon footprint, and also empower consumers with this information,”
After a break, Etienne White — VP of Sustainable Brands’ Brands for
Good initiative — reminded us that a narrative
arc needs a beginning, middle and end. With sustainability storytelling, we know
the beginning — but we need to find out what the middle and the end is.
White shared new research, in which ads were tested on the Ads Sustainability
Awareness Platform (ASAP), co-created by leading brands including
Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, VISA and Nestlé Waters. The research
showed that solutions-oriented ads (for example, P&G’s “It’s Our
with examples of small actions that can be taken to protect the planet)
performed better than ads that reiterate the problem — such as the Ad
Council’s “By the
time,” which forewarns
the damage to the planet by the time a child leaves college.
Don’t fall in love with the problem: Environmental ads that speak to
solutions perform better than ads that dwell on the problem.
Ads with an environmental focus are easier for consumers to understand
(outperforming those with a social focus).
Don’t make it all about you: Ads that are about company progress and
encourage consumer action perform better.
Beware of green
Doing something amazing and then not talking about
or rewarding consumers for supporting it. Consumers value progress over
Move from “advocacy to action.” Ads with a call to action outperform ads
Tell and sell: Don’t be afraid to sell your product at the same time you are
telling your sustainability stories.
Invest the time to get the brief right. What is the outcome you are trying
Treat messaging for societal challenges differently from environmental ones.
Don’t run into places you don’t belong. What can your brand uniquely offer?
Build credibility so you can meet the moment.
Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief at National Geographic, said she is
taking Nat Geo on a journey from reverence to relevance, to become part of the
conversation by telling stories that get noticed.
Goldberg admitted the toughest challenge is to reach audiences when talking
“We need to tell stories about saving the
from pollution and the crisis of extinction of species. You can’t just show off
your problems,” she said, recommending the four principles of sustainable
Do what others can’t
Be part of the conversation
Make a difference
As well as highlighting the ocean plastic problem through the imagery and
stories in Nat Geo’s Plastic or Planet
Goldberg wanted to give people steps of how to use less single use plastic.
‘You’ve got to walk the talk,” Goldberg stresses. For example, with the Plastic
or Planet issue, National Geographic switched from a plastic mailer to paper.
With more and more people viewing digital content, National Geographic is
seeding stories first on online platforms, and then in the magazine. A campaign
on TikTok gave viewers an action to help stop the practice of keeping
cheetahs as pets. These cheetah owners post images on social media for ‘likes’ —
the campaign asked viewers to ‘Think before you like,’ showing them how to use
their influence to enact change.
Published Oct 27, 2021 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Maxine Perella is an environmental journalist working in the field of corporate sustainability, circular economy and resource risk.