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Does sustainability build brand value?

BGB2013 listEvery year, Interbrand releases the results of their Best Global Brands research, based on their brand evaluation model. This year, two brands broke the 13 year reign of Coca Cola as the most valuable brand in the world: Apple and Google. If I consider how these two brands have become part of my life, this is hardly surprising.

The Amsterdam launch of the 2013 ranking was held in the Van Gogh Museum on October 1. At the event, Patrick Stal (Interbrand’s Managing Director for the Netherlands) presented the results and shared his insights on the results. The report identifies key areas for brands to lead, one of which is: Make CSR strategic – and make a real difference.

The point about CSR reminded me that earlier in the year, Interbrand published its Best Global Green Brands list – so I quickly pulled up that list on my phone to compare the two top 10’s. I was quite shocked to see that only one brand appeared in both top 10’s: Toyota.

top 10

If CSR is so strategic, how can the overlap of these two lists be just one brand? And how come companies like Apple and Google that are reputed for being the least transparent on key topics like carbon emissions and climate change made it into the top 10? Interbrand’s answer was quite simple: some brands are so strong, so well-loved, that consumers are willing to turn a blind eye to (or simply ignore) their less pretty sides.

Just a few months back, in Bloomberg BusinessWeek Debate at GRI’s 2013 Global Conference on Sustainability and Reporting, panelists from all backgrounds and continents agreed that business will be the key driver of change to a more sustainable economy. As brands are owned by business, the conclusion could be that we are all betting on the wrong horse if we are counting on business to drive change.

top 20Fortunately, once I got home, I had more time to check out the full list and compare it to the Best Global Green Brands. My conclusion? There is hope yet – as seven out of the two top 20’s are the same brands. And for five of these in the Best Global Brands Top 20, sustainability is cited as a key to its brand strength. It does not overcome letting loved brands “get away” with more, but it does show that integrating sustainability into the business model pays off for brand value.