Call to action for brands with sustainable potential

Batiste Dry Shampoo has made dirty hair desirable. The company’s Twitter feed, @BatisteHair, shows that consumers love skipping a shampoo to save time – “Every day is lie-in day” – and for its beauty benefits – “Gives great volume”.

But the result is that these dry shampooers use less energy and water. Deep into the wettest UK summer since records began, cutting our water consumption might not seem all that important. But these tweets demonstrate how brands can manage their consumers’ global footprint.

By now, most companies have taken a long hard look at the resilience of their supply chain and analysed the lifecycle of their products. Unilever, among others, has found that consumers can account for up to 80 per cent of the resources used across their value chain. Small wonder the company is launching dry shampoo products in 40 countries this year.

Changing consumer footprints must be made appealing. Brands have great form in making change attractive: from Ford bringing motor cars to our cities to Apple moving millions of our music collections online. Branding experts understand that desire, status and loyalty are key.

More and more well-loved brands are flexing this brand power to make sustainable behaviour desirable. Nike turns cities into game boards to get people exercising. Patagonia’s latest campaign asks consumers to swap their jacket on eBay rather than buy it new. The outdoor clothing company even ran a full-page ad in the New York Times saying “Don’t Buy This Jacket”. L’Oréal’s Hairdressers Against Aids programme trains hairdressers to offer advice on safe sex.

But which are the brands that could create disruptive change? Futerra’s Planet Brands Index identifies the 100 brands that could change the behaviour of billions. Many iconic brands are on the index from Google to Gucci, Coca-Cola to Heineken, Toyota to Ping An. We selected the planet brands by comparing three factors, each important for sustainable behavioural change:

1. Brand influence: Because the world’s most trusted brands are the world’s best agents to make sustainable behaviour “normal”;

2. Global scale: Mass-market brands can touch enough consumers to make a real difference to their footprint;

3. Sustainability: Consumers will only trust change messages from brands that have started their own sustainability journey.

The full index is available online, but a few findings stand out. Fashion, cars and phones brands score highly, as does the luxury sector. Cartier, Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton all make the list. Status symbols may encourage conspicuous consumption, but these brands are equally able to position sustainable behaviour as high status.

Technology brands make up 30 per cent of the index, and Apple, Google and Microsoft are in the top ten. These brands have changed a generation’s behaviour beyond recognition and their extraordinary power to connect consumers to sustainability is increasingly recognised.

Being named on the Planet Brands Index isn’t a mark of achievement; it’s a call to action.

Well-loved brands are flexing their brand power to make sustainable behaviour desirable

The index scores on potential rather than performance. Several brands that rank highly are controversial: Apple for its use of coal power; McDonald’s for obesity; and Ferrari for – well, fast cars.

So what do these brands need to do? A decade of research at Futerra has found that there are “three Ps” of behavioural marketing: product, persuasion and placement.

Product behavioural marketing is about “building in” behaviour change. Tide’s Coldwater and Persil’s Small and Mighty are reformulated to clean better in cold-water conditions or on a 30-minute cycle. The pitch works because it’s marketed on traditional benefits – “outstanding cleaning” – rather than on sustainability.

The second “P” is persuasion. Sticking with laundry, Levi’s runs a campaign around a little care tag that advises consumers to wash in cold water, line dry and to donate jeans to charity when they’re no longer wanted. By integrating sustainability advice across all clothing, where the consumer looks for care instructions, Levi’s is normalising sustainable behaviour.

Finally, placement is where brands “model” sustainable behaviour, relying on peripheral rather than central processing. NBC weaves sustainable storylines into its Green Week entertainment, from 30 Rock to Mercy. Advertisers show sustainable behaviour while promoting a mainstream product, perhaps most memorably when Duffy cycled and sang for Diet Coke in 2009.

Humanity needs more brands to put these powerful tactics to work – and soon. Meeting the growing desires, hopes and aspirations of this planet’s seven billion people is going to be one heck of a creative challenge.

Lucy Shea is a an expert on how brands can inspire consumers to live more sustainably; a member of the United Nation’s Sustainable Lifestyles Taskforce, she is the creator of “Swishing”, Futerra’s clothes swapping campaign designed to address the issue of consumption in the fashion industry.