Top brands and industry experts came together at the forum to discuss sustainability and its future in the world of branding.

What exactly is sustainability? All of us—individuals, organizations, companies—talk about our sustainable goals, and sustainability is often our top priority. It’s an easy thing to support and believe in, but much more difficult to put into practice. And brands are no exception: every brand promotes sustainability, but how can they actually become sustainable?

In November, the first-ever IE University Brands & Sustainability Forum was held at the new, state-of-the-art IE Tower. Whether in-person or online, speakers and attendees alike enjoyed an amazing opportunity to discover the latest trends in branding and sustainability. You can watch the complete recording here.

Sustainability in action

First, we heard from Michael Birkin, CEO of kyu, a collective of unique creative firms working with many global organizations to build markets, environments, movements, and brands. Most companies talk about sustainability as corporate social responsibility (CSR), but for Michael, “CSR is just a piece of legal reporting that no one takes seriously.” Real sustainability requires real action.

Michael highlighted a few companies and their practices to explain his point. For example, at the hardware giant Acer, company leaders promoted personal sustainable initiatives, such as planting trees or refusing to purchase bottled water. Despite starting small, this personal touch made their actions more believable, which leaked into the entire company culture and actions on a broader scale. Their brand became synonymous with sustainability in the industry.

Sustainable values as a selling point

Next, the Brands & Sustainability Forum hosted a panel of industry experts to discuss the topic. IE University brought together leaders from brands such as Coca-Cola, Santander, and newcomer Wallbox, along with professional branding consultancy Saffron, to discuss the past, present, and future of brands in today’s marketplace, where sustainability and social responsibility are key selling points. Cristina Vicedo—President of AEBrand and Academic Director at IE University—shares with us that “three out of four people trust brands more than companies or institutions.” This, of course, leads to opportunity. How do these brands capitalize on that?

According to Jacob Benbunan, CEO of Saffron, there are three key factors in brand sustainability: environment, social, and governance (ESG). He emphasizes how every company must take into account each of these factors in order to appeal to customers that increasingly prefer to buy from sustainable brands. How can brands achieve this? In the end, for Jacob, “any successful brand is a brand that has the person, the human being, in the center.” This will, by default, ensure that the company considers ESG in all of their actions.

Green inside and out 

For Enrique Arribas (Santander), brands and company culture are “two sides of the same coin.” For a brand to be sustainable, the entire company must be sustainable, and vice versa. Esther Morillas (Coca-Cola), shared how Coca-Cola commits to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “We want to be part of the solution, not the problem.” Customers, in the end, don’t want just a product. They want a brand that gives back to society, as seen in Coca-Cola’s efforts in Spain to clean up the beaches, reduce plastic and water use, and offer healthier alternatives. 

Finally, Masud Rabbani (Wallbox), leads a young brand whose core business—electric vehicle charging stations—revolves around sustainability. He insisted that “we have a long way to go before we really put our money where our mouth is.” But as shown by their sustainably constructed HQ, incentives for staff to invest in sustainable methods of transport, and carefully curated supply chain where every part of the process will soon be sustainably sourced, his company is deeply committed to sustainability. 

Responsible consumption

IE University then gave the floor to Elio Leoni Sceti, Co-founder & Chief Crafter of The Craftory, an investment group for challenger brands in the consumer products space. He also serves on the board of AB InBev and the Kraft Heinz Company, among others. He spoke specifically about how to apply sustainability to consumer goods. 

Consumption in and of itself seems like an antonym to sustainability. We’re always told to reduce consumption in order to be more sustainable: use less plastic, consume less energy, don’t buy new. But Sceti emphasized how consumer goods can play a critical role in the drive for sustainability in today’s business world. One of the top drivers for brands is a customer’s social profile, which is deeply connected to sustainability: “If brands are a set of values that represent yourself and project your image to others, social profiles are essential… the brands that you use are an indication of your own values.” 

Consumers value sustainability, so brands must do the same. 45% of consumers have stopped purchasing a given brand due to sustainability concerns. No brand can risk losing half of its consumers by failing to focus on sustainability. 

But as we learned in this forum, for brands, being sustainable isn’t just about avoiding losses. More and more, consumers have shown themselves very willing to pay a premium for sustainable brands. New brands have an advantage here, as they can incorporate sustainable practices into everything they do from the very start. Established brands such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, and others have to work harder to change the public’s long-held opinions of them.

Wrapping it up: awards given to leading brands

In the final part of the forum, Cristina Vicedo presided over the Awards Ceremony, recognizing work well done in the arena of sustainability. There were six categories and more than a hundred candidates, which were evaluated by popular input and a six-member jury of branding and sustainability professionals. These sustainability prizes were awarded to brands based on four main criteria: strategy, idea, experience, and results. 

The winners were as follows:

  1. New Brand Creation: Wivai (Gravita)
  2. Brand Repositioning: IFEMA Madrid (Brandfor)
  3. Social Impact: Sheedo (Baud)
  4. Brand Experience: Les Arts Reina Sofia (Kartica)
  5. Best Internal Brand: Grupo Antolin
  6. Best Hispanoamerican Brand: Ramos Grupo (Branward)

In an event like IE University‘s Brands & Sustainability Forum, top brands can get one step closer to their sustainable goals. Stay tuned for future editions!