Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Book Review: The Dance of the Sustainable Product and Brand


What exactly is a sustainable brand, and how does an entrepreneur or company get there? Better yet, how does a consumer know what he or she is getting when a brand is labeled as "sustainable"?

These are not easy questions but Henk Campher has some clear thinking on the subject in a new e-book, "Creating a Sustainable Brand: A Guide to Growing the Sustainability Top Line."

Is there a template for creating a sustainable brand, a fusion of product and branding? Campher’s answer is yes: “It’s when these two dance that we create consumer breakthrough and the magic happens.”

To establish a sustainable brand, “Look at the dance between the product and the brand.” Before the dance occurs look at both how the product is made and at its impact. The same dual approach should be applied to the brand. “We need to know how sustainability comes to life in the action it takes and the stories it tells, as well as how deep (or not) sustainability is embedded into the brand value proposition and identity.”

It starts with the consumer. Campher suggests that: “We might need to reassess the ways we look at consumers when we use our sustainability lens.

“This is the holy grail of sustainability after all – getting more consumers to buy into the idea of sustainability.” More specifically, the trick is “getting more consumers to buy truly sustainable products – even if they do sometimes cost more.”

So don’t expect a revolution in sustainable branding – expect an evolution. Why? Edelman’s brandshare study confirms the hypothesis that consumers want to buy, use, recommend and support brands that share their values. Campher calls it the great unmet demand. “In fact, 90 percent of people across the world want brands to share with them.” Everyone is ready to move at a faster pace, but it isn’t happening. Again why? Campher cites the same study, showing that only 10 percent of consumers think that brands share their values.

“We are wrong when we think consumers aren’t buying into sustainability and aren’t buying products and brands they believe add to a more sustainable lifestyle and world. They are but not the way we want it. And that is our problem, not theirs. This is a business problem to solve, not a consumer’s.”

He continues that the trick is to “find better ways to bring sustainability to life for the consumers in ways that will resonate with them, and foster even faster growth. To find the solution we need to look closer at brand – the soul of a product identity.”

Consumers need to know how sustainability fits into the brand and the product itself to get to a sustainable brand. So the crux of this short and highly readable book is in Campher’s explanation of a sustainable brand model. The model he proposes focuses on two sets of criteria: the impact a product has through its value chain and the inherent value of the product itself.

  • Value chain impact: “The value chain impact looks at the social, environmental and economic impact of a product in its creation and life in the marketplace, from sourcing to manufacturing to transport to the marketplace to post-consumer. Everything that it takes to bring a product to life and through to the end of the product life. Simply put, assessing the impact via a product life cycle assessment.”

  • Inherent value impact: “The second part of the model looks at the inherent value of the product itself. The question it tries to answer is whether a product creates a positive or negative good and what is the long-term impact of the product. Does it help address a key sustainability need of the world or is it a product that is a luxury or driven by want and greed?”

Product sustainability goes hand-in-hand with building a sustainable brand: “Just because a product delivers a positive good does not mean that is a sustainable product. You can create a wind turbine by using slave labor, conflict minerals and dodging taxes. That makes the product itself of great value to society but the value chain impact is horrendous.”

So product sustainability means a product is responsibly created, and that creates positive good. Sustainability branding takes a different approach from product sustainability, however, because it isn’t about its material impact. “Branding is about how the brand comes to life in the marketplace and how values and value comes to life in the brand.”

And that’s the dance: Merging the two pillars of a sustainable brand – product sustainability and branding sustainability – allows for the creation of a model, in the form of a diamond, for developing a sustainable brand.

Briefly, a sustainable brand occurs where value chain impact, sustainability association, brand impact and inherent value impact are strong — the four elements converge at the center of the diamond.

Campher concludes that the sustainable product and sustainability branding “are the yin-yang of a sustainable brand. You can’t have one and none of the other. The Sustainable Brand Model provides a way for us to evaluate the claims made by brands as well as provide brands with a tool to get closer to that elusive sustainable brand status.”

Campher’s key takeaways:

  • What is needed is not a change in consumer behavior but a change in brand behavior.

  • Not all brands are born equal – some are by nature more sustainable than others.

  • Brands fail when they ignore weaknesses and oversell perceived strengths.

  • A sustainable brand is defined by how the product and brand interact and combine.

  • Product sustainability must include both the value chain impact as well as the inherent value of the product itself.

  • Sustainability branding must include both the way a brand connects with the consumer and how it aligns with sustainability.

  • Brands are dynamic and can adapt and change to strengthen their claims as a sustainable brand.

  • The Sustainable Brand Model allows a brand to find its unique sustainable brand value proposition and identify areas of weakness.

Campher has hit on something: the need to understand product sustainability “if we want to know how to build a sustainable brand that consumers will love and buy.”

Image credit: "Creating a Sustainable Brand: A Guide to Growing the Sustainability Top Line" book cover.  

Ed Note: Readers can get a 3p discount on this book by using the code "Campher15" at this link.

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

Read more stories by Bill DiBenedetto