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Corporate Power: Which Brands Can Save The World?

Lucy Shea of The Guardian explains why being named on the Planet Brands Index isn't a mark of acheivement, it's a call to action

8th June 2012

The top US designer Tanner Woodford once obsessively counted his daily encounters with brands. He found that he interacted with a staggering 1,035 of them per day. All those brands have spent millions to build loyalty, status, desire and social acceptance. They obsess about it. Brand value can mean the difference between commercial dominance and irrelevance.

It also has the helpful side effect of creating the most powerful potential tools for sustainable behaviour change.

Some brands are already 'leveraging' their power to change our behaviours. From Unilever's work on shower behaviours to L'ORÉAL's Hairdressers Against AIDS, Patagonia's Don't Buy This Jacket to Max Burger's carbon labelled menu. There's increasing proof that brands can shift consumer habits.

Futerra has direct experience of how powerful that can be. But this beautiful marriage between brands and behaviour change is still worryingly rare.

So we asked ourselves: Which 100 brands could have the greatest impact on behaviours?

The Planet Brands Index reveals the 100 brands that could help us all live sustainable lifestyles: the brands that could change the behaviours of billions, for a better future.

Let's be blunt. Most of the brands named on our Index haven't even started yet. Some are controversial. Some struggle with sustainability. But all have a huge asset that could help drive sustainability if they chose to use it: their brand power.

From Google to Coca-Cola, Danone to Ping An, Samsung to Heineken. These global brands span continents and industrial sectors. They surround us, we recognise them, they are familiar, normal and desirable. They have the attributes that sustainability desperately needs.

How did we create the list?

We chose the Planet Brands by comparing three factors:

• Brand Influence

Which brands enjoy the hugest recognition and loyalty? The world's most familiar brands are the world's best channels to make sustainable behaviours 'normal'.

• Global Scale

Which brands touch the most people? Global mass market brands can radically affect enough consumers' footprints to make a real difference.

• Sustainability

Which brands understand sustainability? Consumers will only trust brands that have at least made a start on sustainability.

A lot of potential Planet Brands dropped off because they underscored on one of the criteria. But the final list is fascinating.

What did we find?

We were initially surprised by the list. But the brandprints of those who made the cut are so huge that they touch us all. These brands can make sustainable lifestyles so desirable that they become normal.

Potential not performance

The Index includes brands that are not normally seen together in sustainability analysis. There are established sustainability leaders (Danone, HP and Philips). Then there are those that have set ambitious targets to become sustainable brands (PPR's Gucci and Adidas). But many brands that score highly are those that are either at the start of their journey or that sit at the heart of many a controversial debate (Apple, Ferrari and McDonalds).

Brands not companies

The Planet Brands Index started with data on globally recognised brands, not companies. Kleenex tissues comes in at number 52, rather than its owner Kimberly-Clark. This means companies such as Unilever, famous for behaviour change but with a diverse range of brands around the world, don't feature this year.

Global influence

American brands dominate almost half the list, with German and Japanese brands being the other largest contenders. Chinese brands like Bank of China and China Mobile have a strong showing. When we run the Planet Brands Index next year we expect many more Brazilian and Indian brands to pop up.

Fashion Brands

Fast cars, fast fashion, gimmicky phones. The top five sectors include automobiles, clothing and mobiles. Luxury brands also are well represented: Gucci, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. Some will argue that these brands encourage conspicuous consumption and are part of the problem. But in terms of selling sustainability as high status, they are the solution.

Technology brands

Technology brands account for 30% of the Index, and the top 10 include Google, Apple and Microsoft, with Nintendo in the top 40. These brands have already radically changed the behaviours of a generation. Their extraordinary power to build sustainable lifestyles is increasingly recognised.

Big business brands

Today, the most exciting sustainable behaviour change work is done by small brands, governments and public interest organisations. Big businesses are the newbies. There is a huge amount they can learn from the specialists. We have enough proof of concept. So it's time for sustainable lifestyles to be scaled up.

What next?

Creating sustainable lifestyles is in all our interest. That includes big brands. I've written before on how brands can change behaviour through persuasion, their products and placement.

Being named on the Planet Brands Index isn't a mark of achievement, it's a call to action. Together, these brands could save the world.

The Planet Brands Index launched this week at the Sustainable Brands '12. Keep up to date with the action on twitter by following @swishinglucy

Lucy Shea is chief executive of Futerra Sustainability Communications

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To see the full Planet Brands Index click here

Tom Roche (trading as) Just Forests Ltd.
Ringfort Workshop, Rathcobican, Rhode, Offaly, Ireland
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