Successful sustainability initiatives have become a key component of global firms' brand strength, according to the consultancy behind the annual Best Global Brands Report.
Speaking ahead of the September 19 publication of the report's latest edition, Interbrand chief executive in London Rune Gustafson said that it was becoming almost impossible for a firm to retain a strong brand without also having a credible sustainability strategy.
"It is becoming a 'hygiene factor,' " he explained. "If you don't have a good sustainability record, people will be turned off by the brand."
He added that while it was difficult to attribute the exact contribution corporate responsibility measures make towards brand value, it was worth noting that the 10 companies heading Interbrand's top 100 list — Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, GE, Nokia, Toyota, Intel, McDonalds, Disney and Google — all spent "more time than the average addressing the sustainability issue."
Similarly, many of the climbers in the ranking, such as Google, Apple, GE, Toyota and Honda, have all made long-term green commitments.
Gustafson said that increasingly environmental and social performance is being regarded by the public as a key factor in a brand's strength.
"Traditionally, strong brands have three things: clarity over what they stand for, consistency of that message across the whole business and leadership over rivals," he explained. "Well, sustainability cuts right across all those factors."
However, he also warned that firms that failed to develop wide-reaching environmental initiatives would struggle to deliver any brand premium through their green efforts. "The trend is now mature enough that there is not much credit to be had from just showing concern," he advised. "You need to be doing something practical and showing a willingness to make your performance accountable and transparent."
The latest version of the Interbrand report came on the same day as government-backed green advisory body Envirowise warned firms that they should embrace the basic measures required to cut energy use and carbon emissions before undertaking higher profile "grand gestures" such as switching to a hybrid fleet or offsetting all company emissions.
"While making green statements is commendable, too many companies are ignoring the basics and forming their environmental policies on 'greenspin,' " argued Envirowise marketing director Mary Leonard. "[These] initiatives that will make them look good publicly but, in isolation, won't help the company achieve the greatest possible impact on their day-to-day green performance."
She added that firms could often deliver greater cost and carbon savings by simply "simply reviewing how the use of resources can be reduced, and where waste can be reused and recycled.'"
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