Traditional consumer goods companies are missing out on the opportunity to embed sustainability into their brands, an effort that can significantly boost growth.

The European study by Bain & Co. determined that three obstacles prevent companies from making sustainability part of their brand DNA: delivering consumer value, finding affordable solutions, and using operating models that thwart their efforts.

In an online paper called The Sustainable Brands in Your Future, authors François Faelli, Jean-Charles van den Branden, Jenny Davis-Peccoud, and Magali Deryckere write that “Many consumer goods companies have made solid gains to promote sustainability through such moves as reducing their carbon footprint and water usage. However, relatively few have made sustainability a big part of their brands.”

Senior executives at 20 of Europes largest companies were surveyed. Everyone contacted sai they made sustainability a priority and are devoting more time to it yet only 5 percent believed their organisations had successfully embedded sustainability in their brands.

Bain outlines are a range of performance advantages that sustainable brands possess;

  • Fully 90 percent of consumers said they would switch to sustainable brands if price and quality were equal
  • Insurgent brands with sustainability are their core grow 186 times the average rate of their product categories
  • Incumbent brands with a sustainable core experience 5- to 6-times-higher growth rates

As always, however, achieving such outcomes is easier said than done. For starters, while consumers want sustainable products they have also demonstrated an unwillingness to compromise on taste, convenience, quality, and price for sustainability.

“Consumer goods companies can overcome this obstacle by authentically making sustainability one of the reasons consumers love their brand. That starts by establishing a sustainability ambition and asking a fundamental question: How strongly do we want to tie our brand purpose and proposition to sustainability?” the authors write.

“When making sustainability part of the value proposition, a common route is to start at the bottom of the Elements of Value pyramid with threshold-level sustainability elements. For example, many brands deliver on the quality element (a functional element) by removing artificial colors and flavors. The most successful brands then push further, using sustainability to bring out higher-level elements.”

They reference Dove’s decade-long campaign focusing on “real beauty,”  saying the brand’s beauty products score well on wellness (an emotional element) and are now aiming for life-changing as the brand connects with broader social issues.

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