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Sustainability: the signs of a maturing industry

The tone at the Sustainable Brands conference was decidedly different this year.  Much as the “high tech” industry and the “.com” markets peaked with brilliant shiny, forward-thinking technology-based concepts in the 90’s,  the sustainable movement is showing signs that the love-fest of warmth and do-gooder intent is now shifting into the drudgery of the hard work phase.  This is fantastic news for the sustainable movement.

As a brand marketer, I was disappointed at how little we’ve progressed in the last year in terms of being able to move mainstream market behavior towards more responsible product and services adoption.  But the first rule of marketing is to demonstrate authenticity and we all know that marketing is not a cover for product value.   So besides the Clorox Green Works and Sun Chips story, I’m going to give us collective group of marketers a hall-pass this year.

What was notable about this year’s conference were the amount of speakers and panels covering the operations and infrastructure that is guiding the sustainability movement.  This year discussions on third party certification, the creation of shareholder value, materials sourcing, toxic waste management, and supply-chain partnership reminded us that this emerging industry of sustainability is truly about transitioning a very large infrastructure of business.

We marketers are stuck on saying consumers are confused because quite frankly we’re all confused.  Or more fairly stated, forward-thinking sustainable business practices are complex simply because we are transitioning to a state that is no longer based on short-term thinking.  We have moved from the industrial age to the technology age and we might well be evolving to an age of sustainability.  Only time will tell but the conversations happening at every level are indicators that this movement is gaining solid ground.

Assuming we are beginning to emerge from the massive blip of the global financial breakdown, here are a few hopes for what will occur before next year’s conference:

  1. The sustainability movement will begin to fragment itself into more silo’d and understandable business units.  Units that consumers will understand and will embrace as one of many solutions towards a sustainable future vs. the constant state of comparison and adoption of one solution needing to be the right and only answer.
  2. Government regulation and policy advocacy will facilitate national and international standards and initiatives to support more sustainable business infrastructure.
  3. Legal entities will be further evolved to protect businesses and shareholders interested in adopting more sustainable business practices.
  4. The investing community will pool greater sums of capital and resources to create broader mechanisms of impact through sustainable business.
  5. Third party certification will consolidate and clarify the industry – or be allocated across sustainable verticals.
  6. The lexicon of sustainability will evolve to inform and simplify consumer adoption.

That is my wish.  I bet some version of this will be true and an even greater more dynamic forum will take place next year.

Written by Kelli Peterson

Kelli Peterson is a brand and communications strategist with 20 years of professional experience in the corporate and non-profit world. Kelli is the founder of The Change Project, a collaborative consultancy focused on creating value and positive social impact through the power of brand. Kelli is a sometimes blogger, an avid world traveler and passionate about creating change.

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