Tina Ly


“How much is it? Is it trendy? Is it very caloric?” are now “old-school” questions. Consumers – especially Millenials – are caring about “where does a product come from? Is it local? How was it processed? “. Some brands understood it well and strive to create campaigns living up consumers’ expectations – more or less (clumsily) creatively.

Although sustainability is embedded in their strategy, the claim over the products sold of some organisations is not made to target traditional green consumers – often caricatured as hippies – but simply for people who care about what they consume and their impact on their direct environment.

Today’s consumers are even more concerned about what they are eating… Even more when they enter a fast food chain. And thus, being transparent about how products and food are made, explaining the effects an organisation has on its commodity chain, have become critical issues for brand strategy.

McDonald’s: From clumsiness to listener?

In 2010 with its advertisement “Where does breakfast come from?” McDonald’s tried to illustrate through a tale, where the products served in their restaurant are coming from: a beautiful farm, which products are – apparently – delivered every morning and cooked upon arrival by a “breakfast wizard”. Such spot highlighted two very important issues: First, young people are questioning products origins; Second, nobody really knows where products are coming from. Even the spot does not say much. Since then, the famous fast food chain seems to listen more to its consumers. Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s’ Vice President for strategic sourcing and worldwide supply chain management, said in The Guardian that “[consumers] want to know where their food comes from… We need to understand what consumers mean and talk to them in the same language.” Although consumers do not use the key word “sustainability”, the issues underneath actually matter. What is being consumed contribute to the development of local farmers or products are cultivated without harmful chemicals are information that more and more consumers are willing to know and understand.

Where Does Breakfast Come From? from DBL DRAGON on Vimeo.

Chipotle: the commodity chain, main actor of its campaigns

Since its first campaign, the famous Mexican grill has been using its commodity chain to talk about its business model. After “Back to the Start” and “The Scarecrow”- campaigns that mainly denounced food production practices – Chipotle has pushed its originality and creativity even further by launching a mini web series: “Farmed and Dangerous”. Farmed and Dangerous appears to be mixing a Dallas plot, with some touch of humour/sarcasm taken from The Mentalist or NCIS, and a classical love story in the background between “impossible” lovers… A typical US series! The packaging is quasi perfect: the series website is available, where information related to the characters is presented. Even a fictitious corporate website of Animoil has been created. Through this campaign, Chipotle not only denounces the current food production system – like in the past – but also points out communication tricks used on the food market; in other words greenwashing practices.

1. “These people are dying from eating, not starving. That’s progress”, such punch line from the trailer depicts you the vision of the system as seen by Buck Marshall, the main face of the Industrial Food Image Bureau (I.F.I.B), a PR agency that works on the image of food companies, using greenwashing tricks. The mission of the I.F.I.B is “to protect our freedom. Freedom to choose what we wanna read no matter what the studies prove.”

2. Animoil is the perfect incarnation of a polluting company, concerned by its… higher profits. The fictitious Animoil corporate website is designed in such a way that it appears to be real. There is even a rubric dedicated to the Corporate Responsibility of the company; the four tenets mocking openly greenwashing wording tricks.


3. Chip Randolph is the heroic activist who struggles in the system and fights for better and more sustainable farming practices. The nice-handsome guy.

Even if the system is not perfect, consumers will tend to trust a brand, which is honest about how it works, the challenges encountered, presenting all the actors of a system, and the impacts on each actor when a change is made; an organisation that is transparent about its commodity chain.


People working for an organization are probably the main ambassadors of the organization’s brand. In front of customers, co-workers or within their social circle, they represent and reflect the values and the image of an organization’s brand. Therefore, employees should be carefully selected and their career path properly followed-up to ensure that such brand image is well conveyed. Within any organization Human Resources activities are perceived to be limited to some core functions such as hiring people, following employees’ development, setting employees’ benefits and managing leaving personnel. However, according to Andrew Savitz, senior consultant at SBS, HR functions are essential to Brand strategy in sustainability.

Hiring people

Based on an organization needs and budget, HR professionals attract talents by using the brand image and values of the organization. Since today’s organizations tend to include sustainability values, sustainability-related values have become essential criteria not only in employees’ selection, but also employer’s selection. So, how to attract talents to come work for one’s organization based on sustainability values?  Simply with proofs! What better than tangible examples about initiatives taken and realized by an organization rather than mere words?

TOMS has proven again its commitment to its famous business model One for One®. In 2013, TOMS has launched its marketplace dedicated to social entrepreneurs that totally embraces the concept of One for One®. For each purchase made from a brand, a cause is supported in a specific region or country.


Besides, on the hiring page, the founder Blake Mycoskie celebrates the 7 years of TOMS in a video by telling not only all the great achievements of the past 7 years, but also by presenting the culture and some of the core values of the company.

Another way of attracting talents: Heineken approach! Last year, the beer brand came out with a new way of hiring people: what matters was not how much ready a candidate was for a classic job interview, but how actually his/her personality was and could match with the current team. The recruiting process was putting candidates in atypical and awkward situations to test if what is usually said – such as “I can work under pressure”; “I adapt myself easily” – is real:

  1. Holding the hand of the recruiter
  2. Assist the recruiter who fainted
  3. Act in an emergency evacuation

Employees’ development 

Employees develop their career through the experience they acquire within the organization on daily activities and trainings. The role of HR here could be to offer opportunities to raise awareness about how economic, environmental and social issues can affect the organization and all around.

Employees’ rewards

Rewards are usually set according to employees’ performance and objective achievements. In the same manner, sustainability-related objectives, such as brand image representation, could be rewarded with incentives encouraging employees to go on.

Levi’s has combined both employees’ development and rewards through their Community Involvement Teams. The famous jeans company encourages its employees to get involved in local charities by giving them up to 60 hours paid time off per year to do so. Furthermore, every year since 2000, on Community Day in May, Levi’s employees around the world volunteer for a day with local nonprofit organizations. Such initiative contributed last May to:

  • Thousands of employees participating in nearly 170 projects in 46 countries related to addressing sustainability, equality and fighting against HIV/AIDS
  • A total of $ 300.000 granted to nonprofit partners by the Levi Strauss Foundation


Source: Levi’s

Updated knowledge

10 years ago, positions such as “community manager” or “digital marketer” just started to pop out from job offers. Organizations need talents with up-to-date knowledge, skills and mindsets. Sustainability-related jobs have also invaded careers opportunities to become even more specific such as “Carbon accounting specialist” or “Lifecycle analysis specialist”. Aman Singh, Editorial Director at CSRwire said: “It is encouraging that companies are opening their doors, slowly but surely, to eager and skilled graduates who want to use their careers to make a difference.”

Managing leaving employees 

People who worked for an organization keep on carrying the brand image of its previous employers. Whether an employee leaves or s/he is retiring. Therefore, benefits or pension policies could be a mean for sustainability policies of an organization: the organization is caring beyond the work life time.


Put down your phone, save a child’s life. Take the UNICEF Tap Project Challenge and go without your cell phone to give clean water to kids. Visit http://uniceftapproject.org to begin your challenge today. For every 10 minutes you stay away from your phone, you will unlock a sponsor’s donation. The funds raised will be used for water, sanitation and hygiene programs in countries with the most need.

In this video, you will learn how the 2014 Tap Project Challenge works and how you can help provide clean water to kids all around the world by putting your phone down.

Water is life. Yet 768 million people do not have access to safe, clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion people live without proper sanitation. When water is unsafe and sanitation non-existent, water can kill.

Take the UNICEF Tap Project Challenge and go without your cell phone to give clean water to kids. Visit uniceftapproject.org


So far the main purpose of a clothing label was to provide washing and composition information.  But clothing labels may have a new function: help consumers to buy better.  Buy a top made of recycled materials? Buy from a brand with ethical values? Here are the new questions raised by today’s consumers.

Which brand to buy?

More and more prêt-à-porter brands are creating collection made of greener materials, such as items made of organic or recycled materials. Besides, there are more and more “greener fashion guides” that can be found surfing the web. For example the Eco Fashion World provides a list of sustainable designer brands and online eco fashion stores based on brand names, online stores, cloth’s categories, eco-criteria or countries.


Source: Eco Fashion World

New symbols for clothing label?

Each brand is evaluated based on eco criteria by the Eco Fashion World:


Source: Eco Fashion World

  • Vegan: products made without animal materials
  • Ethically produced: products made with respect for people and the environment
  • Craft/Artisan: products made using artisan skills preserving old traditions
  • Custom: made-to-order products
  • Fair Trade Certified products
  • Organic: natural fibers grown without the use of pesticides or other toxic products
  • Recycled: products made with recycled materials
  • Vintage / Second-hand

However, all brands do not necessary comply with all these eco criteria.

Another fashion web guide Style With Heart is also offering a list of brands based on category such as Fair Trade, ethical fashion, organic clothing, eco-friendly items, recycled items, and vintage.

How to choose: 100% organic or 100% recycled?

Nike has goes on with innovating in sustainability. After its Nike store made up with 100% trash in Shanghai, Nike has launched the NIKE Material Sustainability Index (NIKE MSI). This index ranks materials such as cotton or polypropylene in Four impact areas:

  1. Chemistry
  2. Energy/Greenhouse Gas,
  3. Water/Land
  4. Physical waste

Nikeresponsibility.com, with the message “materials matter”, informs consumers about his/her impact on the environment based on the materials chosen using the NIKE MSI.


NIKE MSI Index is higher (better) if the hoodie is made of organic cotton fabric


Source: Nike

The purpose of this index is to provide a vast range of data, regarding materials used to produce clothing, shoes or accessories, to designers and creators.

Furthermore, a free smartphone application has been designed relying on NIKE MSI data: MAKING app.  This app could be seen as a source of information to guide the user to choose the “right” material, as it helps understand the environmental impacts of the choices made. Indeed, each material is ranked and the app enables the user to compare different materials.

For example rubber versus cotton: considering all the criteria mentioned above but also the environmental impact, the recycling capacity and the supplier practices, rubber material is ranked as No. 1 in NIKE MSI when the cotton is ranked at the 11th position.

In addition, each material presents a breakdown of its NIKE MSI in the 4 impact areas; which means that the best material, currently the rubber, may be ranked as number one as an overall but may be ranked:

  • 16th in chemistry impact
  • 2nd in energy impact
  • 2nd in water impact
  • 6th waste impact

The NIKE MSI is also affected by the use of recycled or organic material and the supplier choice.

MAKING app also engages consumers to research information about how to consume more sustainably and question the production chain from the material used to the end life of a product.


This app and index could also be used by any consumer while buying clothes: clothing label may be checked with more care and attention! Therefore, designers and creators may be encouraged more and more by consumers themselves to think better of materials to be used.


Since the beginning of this column, tips and best practices examples taken from organizations have been given. Other media, even your favorite celebrities are giving some DO’s of how to live sustainably or acting more sustainably. Of course, the first common reaction is: “nice but this involves a budget! Not anyone can afford it”. True. Besides, the reality from which we cannot escape is that (1) we are living in a fast-moving consumption world (2) where greener products are more expensive (3) and old consuming (bad) habits are difficult to change. 2050 is coming soon and common efforts should be made by then. Therefore, shall brands lead us to live more sustainably? Actually, rather than wondering what we should expect from brands for this New Year, let’s wonder what is expected from them?

At Changi Airport, Singapore

At Changi Airport, Singapore

So far…

  • More and more actions are made to raise awareness among people but also within organizations.
  • Organizations are moving forward in engaging their employees, e.g. use of recycling garbage bins, internal training even in Turkey (!).
  • Standards for reporting are increasing; Sustainability Accounting Standards have recently started to be defined per sector.
  • A basic criteria in some brand campaigns, such as Unilever, BASF, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Levi’s, Marks & Spencer, H&M campaigns.

  • Thinking locally is more and more popular, this matters more to consumers. For example, Tropicana’s last campaign in Turkey showed the use of local fruits for the production of its famous fruit juice.
  • Public contribution is more and more required to ensure organization’s strategy is in line with its target audience.

1960’s = consumer society, 2010’s = caring-consumer society?

How to integrate more sustainability in our way of consuming daily? Going on raising people’s awareness and educate people in using better way of consuming. But time is passing and to reach a wide audience and have large impacts, leading brands may show us the way, since their investments in marketing and advertising are already quite significant. What better than campaigns to communicate sustainability values and best practices? Some leading brands already started to pave the way…

  • In 2010, Levi’s in collaboration with Procter & Gamble made a campaign to inform customers about how to take care of their jeans: the best way being not washing them! With cold water if necessary.
  • In 2012, Patagonia encouraged customers not to purchase more than necessary during the holiday season with its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign.


  • In 2012, M&S started Shwopping, a program inviting people to donate their clothes of any brand each and every time they buy something new. Shwopped clothes are given to Oxfam.


  • H&M is not only the world’s largest buyer of organic cotton. In 2013, the second-largest clothing retailer in the world launched a quite similar operation: “Long live fashion!”. Customers are invited to give any clothe of any brand in any condition into an H&M store. In exchange, they receive a 15% discount voucher on their next item purchased per bag donated. The purpose of this operation is to reduce the amount of clothes ending up in landfill by being recycled by H&M’s partner: I:Collect.


  • In 2012, the World Bank highlighted in a report on municipal solid waste (MSW), that the world’s cities are generating around 1.3 billion tons of MSW a year, with nearly half of it generated by OECD countries. Therefore retailers and food companies have a big challenge: educate consumers to not buy excessively and create more waste. M&S took the challenge by: (1) educating customers on how to shop better and reduce waste at home using leftovers through animated games; (2) improving its packaging technology so that perishable food products can be kept longer; (3) diverting many foods from landfill; (4) decreasing prices of food products closed to be expired; (5) donating, composting or diverting not saleable food to anaerobic digesters for energy. Inspiring!


Agencies: a key role?

Communication is key, interacting and collaborating with its target audience and more generally with people, are essential to engage change towards sustainable lifestyle. Creativity is thus a ‘MUST’ required to attract people’s attention. So here enter major game players: agencies. Their main role is to translate the message of companies. And if these companies want to show their commitment to sustainability, then agencies have to find new creative ideas to communicate on this matter. They must create authentic content, create new challenges for people that turn sustainable actions into entertaining activities, and create new ideas to raise more and more awareness.

This year, hopefully, we will see more brands, more collaboration, more actions towards a common target: engaging people and make things (really) happen sustainably.