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The Global Brands That Could Change the World

Leon Kaye | Monday June 11th, 2012 | 5 Comments

futerra, sustainability communications, public relations, sustainability, global brands, planet brands, top 100 planet brands, planet brands index, brandingFuterra, a sustainability communications firm based in the United Kingdom, released its list of the top 100 Planet Brands. The list is a who’s who of some of the world’s most iconic brands, from Google and Samsung in the tech sector to such processed food giants as Kellogg’s and McDonald’s. And by brand, Futerra means brands, not companies: so Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex and Diageo’s Johnny Walker make the list, too.

The list, according to Futerra, is important for these large brands’ potential to effect changes in consumer habits and help the public accept more responsible and sustainable behavior. The list includes some companies, including Microsoft and Nike, which have already made strides in incorporating more sustainable business practices. And the list will raise hackles on those who wonder why Apple and KFC are mentioned. But as Futerra’s Lucy Shea explained last week, the Planet Brands Index is not a sign of achievement, but a call to action.

Three factors are behind Futerra’s assembly of this top 100 list:

Brand influence: Which are the most widely recognized and enjoyed? Brands that consumers readily trust score huge opportunities to make sustainable behavior more acceptable. And that can include the highly coveted luxury brands Burberry and Louis Vuitton.

Global scale: Which brands touch the most people around the world? Global mass market brands from Coca-Cola to Xerox, whose brands have become part of the everyday vernacular, are a couple of examples. The logistics firms UPS and FedEx are also on the list, as are their very loyal customers, Amazon.com and eBay.

Sustainability: Which of these brands really grasp sustainability? One reason why shouts of “greenwashing” have softened recently is that more companies learned the hard way that corporate social responsibility and sustainability are not about public relations and spin, but about engaging stakeholders and building trust. To that end, Walmart, both cornered by its critics and inspired after its employees had a heroic role in the Hurricane Katrina recovery, stands out as one example. Another is Hewlett-Packard (HP), in part because of its founders’ legacy and the company’s current work on social innovation.

The common thread is that in almost every corner of the world, these brands touch us on almost a daily basis. Some are aspirational or eye-rolling, such as Ferrari and Cartier. And they all have groomed masters of three of the five marketing “P’s,” persuasion, placement and product. But this call to action is not just asking that “stuff” be manufactured more responsibly and sustainably; that is hardly a cure as the evidence suggests the world’s population cannot just continue to consume resources at the current voracious rate.

But persuasion can occur via company employees, or the match between market research and how it can make an impact on sustainable behavior. Products should try to use less of everything during their manufacture, from water to energy; so beverage companies like Pepsi can stop dodging the debate over high fructose corn syrup and turn mashed up garbanzo beans into food that contributes to well-being. And finally, the demonstration of responsible and positive behavior in a product’s advertising campaign can become instilled in everyday behavior at home, the office and out in public. And so these brands, many of which are revered and respected, are on this list. Because whether they are actively involved in sustainability, just getting their feet wet or have a long road ahead, they have the power to motivate people to do, quite simply, good.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Graphic courtesy Futerra.


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  • Joe Starinchak

    For this list to not include Patagonia or Interface is a joke and it shows the lack of depth for this ranking.  Both brands are global in nature and are arguably the most ecologically friendly companies based in the U.S.

    • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

      Good catch.  I’d also argue that some of the less sexy cleaning products brands like Seventh Gen in the US and Ecover in Europe have been changing the world for decades and arguably inspired many of the larger brands to get their houses in order…  The only thing I can think of is maybe they restricted to public companies?

      • http://www.facebook.com/mjs.healthyway Mike Lucas

        Nick, Seventh Generation is a greenwashing company! They are not all natural. Check out the man made ingredients on the packaging. Check out Shaklee and their natural cleaning products at http://mjshealthyway.com 

  • Joe Starinchak

    Interface is a public company

  • http://twitter.com/LeonKaye Leon Kaye

    Remember that this is a call to action, not a list of the top 100 sustainable brands. The list is full of brands that are just starting to ramp up their sustainability efforts–and of course many have barely have done anything. Both companies mentioned earlier are also relatively small compared to the brands owned by companies on this list. The point is that some companies have already gone above and beyond. Futerra’s point is to get these other companies to start moving.