Stay away from sustainability

Guy Champniss

Brands should avoid preaching sustainability, like Wal-Mart, and instead focus on building social capital with long-term commercial benefits, as Pepsi and the Equity Bank in Kenya have demonstrated

On 16 July last year, the growing number of sustainability-inclined folks in the marketing and communications industry stopped to listen to Wal-Mart's announcement that it was going to create a 'Sustainable Product Index'.

This looked impressive – when an organisation the size of Wal-Mart gets behind something like this, and chief executive Mike Duke says “we do not see this as a trend that will fade”, it has to be a victory day for those who see the increasingly demanding calls for more sustainable products and services as part of the shifting landscape for the legitimacy and vitality of brands.

And, of course, Wal-Mart is not alone. The growth in product labelling, CSR-driven websites supporting the corporate brand, and forensic reporting on supply chain activities, means consumers – or those at least who are interested – have access to a breadth and depth of data that is unparalleled. This today seems to represent brand-driven communications around sustainability: a choice of message and media predicated on the assumption that the more information the consumer has, the more informed they can be, and the more likely they are to migrate towards more sustainable consumption.