Sustainable Brands Seminar Series: An Opportunity to Go Deeper

Sustainable Brands Seminar Series debuted in San Francisco earlier this month and will be hitting the road later this year, traveling to Twin Cities, New Jersey/NYC and Austin.  I attended the first two days, in a series of five, which focused on Brand Strategy with Jennifer Rice from Fruitful Strategies and Communications with John Marshall Roberts from Worldview Learning.

The seminars attracted a small, yet lively mix of communications and marketing consultants and companies, both brand names and smaller start-ups. The format of day-long workshops was designed to allow sustainability professionals to dive into a topic and go deeper than time allows at the typical Sustainable Brands conference session.

I think it is a great model, and I enjoyed the opportunity to focus in for the day on specific topics.  I would have liked even more time for sharing and discussion among participants and think a stronger showing from companies would make the experience even richer.

The series includes five topics:

  • Brand Strategy: Building the Credible Sustainable Brand
  • Communications: Designing Communications that Resonate
  • Product Design: Sustainable Product Design: an LCA Approach
  • Supply Chain: Making Supply Chains More Sustainable
  • Data and Metrics: Managing Your Sustainable Brand Plan: Management Systems & Metrics for Driving Ideas to Reality

To register, click here.  To hear some of the highlights from the first two days, read on.

Building the Credible Sustainable Brand

The intended target audience for this intermediate to an advanced level seminar is mid to senior level brand marketers, so I was a bit out of my league, having no formal training in branding.  For me, it was a great overview of the elements of how to build a sustainable brand. I left with a better understanding of the language and components that go into making a strong brand.

It is clear that Rice knows what she is talking about.  Her presentation and frameworks are well thought out.  The day was jammed packed with frameworks, information and exercises.

Some of the take home messages that stuck with me are summarized below.

What is a brand?: Rice defines branding as “a promise delivered” to customers and the creation of a “magnetic experience”.  One that is credible, desirable and distinctive.  She has developed a specific framework that allows companies to assess where they stand on their branding, from laggard to the transformative company.  She suggested that the first step in a branding process is to conduct an audit to understand where you stand and identify gaps and opportunities.  Her presentation drilled down into details about different brand portfolio strategies, providing a framework to think about how to take your brand to the next level, from buying a green brand, such as Clorox acquiring Burt’s Bees,  to creating an ingredient brand, such as Home Depot’s Eco Options, to anchoring in a master brand that is corporate wide, such as IBM.

Brand Audit: For each of the five brand stages, she touched on specific components to consider in an audit, such as strategic scope, brand positioning, customer journey, communications and operational integrity.

The seminar gives you that rare time to step back and think strategically about your brand–are you a wallflower, transparent, but shy?  Or a proactive, transparent leader?  Where does your competition stand?  Where are the opportunities?  These are the type of questions we had time to explore.

Rice encouraged participants to be frank about their Achilles heel– if there is an elephant in the room, name it and explain your plan for addressing it. She recommended the SIGWatch website for information on the issues that NGOs are tracking.

Exercises: The exercises were challenging for me, because I didn’t have a live case study to apply the framework to, so joined a partner and applied it to his start-up.  I think it is great that participants are given time to work through exercises focused on their specific brand challenges and have the opportunity to get advice and input from Rice.  My attempt at applying the framework to my partner’s situation was challenging.  I imagine more experience marketing professionals with specific, complex marketing challenges will find value in the exercises.

Designing Communications that Resonate

Marshall Robert’s approach was more informal, but based on his background in psychology.  He reminded me of a favorite college professor who is entertaining, yet knowledgeable, full of energy, enthusiasm and insights.

Like the branding seminar, the day was a mix of lecture, group discussion and time to apply his framework to our personal challenges. We all left with a strategic communication roadmap, including recommended strategies for communicating effectively with our stakeholders.

The seminar is really about how to get your message through by understanding your audience and presents a framework to deeply understand people. Marshall Robert’s gives two tips at the beginning for shifting thinking and inspiring change:  be authentic and know your audience.

The underlying theory is that by understanding the worldview of our target audience, we can develop more effective communications that can actually be heard and have an impact. A significant portion of the day was spent understanding the four predominant worldview systems and how to communicate to them.

He touched on the importance of having a compelling, uplifting and inspiring “why.”  What is your underlying purpose for doing the work you do?  After a few participants shared their “why,” it became clear to me we all needed more practice articulating what we stand for. I would have appreciated more time to drill down into this aspect.

Below is a video clip of Robert’s work that will give you a feel for his style and approach.  He also wrote an  article for LOHAS Journal last spring which describes his work in more detail.


Deborah Fleischer is President of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies create authentic communication strategies that educate, engage and inspire both employees and external stakeholders.  Check out our new green team tool, Corp Green.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at

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