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The Global Brands That Could Change the World

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Leadership & Transparency

Futerra, 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.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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