Buying into something, not just buying something: Interbrand's James Bickford on why New Zealand businesses need to close the 'say/do' gap

  • Marketing
  • July 12, 2013
  • Ben Fahy
Buying into something, not just buying something: Interbrand's James Bickford on why New Zealand businesses need to close the 'say/do' gap

Interbrand recently released its third annual Best Global Green Brands report and, interestingly, the automotive sector dominates, with Toyota, Ford, and Honda judged the top three brands (see below for full list and themes). Interbrand New Zealand's managing director James Bickford says brands committed to transparency and communicating with consumers continue to top the list, but New Zealand brands have plenty of catching up to do. 

Big global brands are still finding their way in this space, he says. But there is growing recognition that corporate social responsibility can't just be a gimmick that's tacked on. While it's obviously important for the marketing team to tell the positive stories, he doesn't think it belongs there. It belongs at the core of the business.   

He says having a daffodil day once a year is very different to a business that is, for example, trying to develop bio-fuels or embarking on a 50 year mission to change its business model from the top down (like some car companies). 

"To be honest, that's a win-win, and that's how it should be treated ... It's becoming part of the business model, rather than 'which charity shall we support this year' ... Consumers now are wanting to buy into something, not just buy something. And if I was to summarise New Zealand right now, I'd say they need to close the say/do gap. Show me what you're doing. Show me your commitment to the long term." 

He points to Pepsi, which is working closely with water.org, as a good example of a big global brand that has reduced the number of partnerships it has and is working with NGOs as strategic partners, or Clarins, which has teamed up with Feed. In New Zealand, he doesn't think there are too many companies making CSR a core part of their business. But he does rate Air New Zealand, which has looked at alternative fuels and materials and is also working with the Department of Conservation, Z Energy, which runs its Good in the Hood ​scheme, and Meridian, which is focused on reneweable energy. 

He believes there is still cynicism towards CSR initiatives in New Zealand among consumers, as it is often seen as PR subterfuge; 'bad' companies attempting to redress the balance by being philanthropic. But he says it's moved on in other parts of the world and that's the big step New Zealand needs to take. And he feels New Zealand is in a great position to take the lead on this, because things happen much more quickly given the size of our companies relative to those in other markets. 

In an recent interview on Radio New Zealand, Dr Jane Lister, co-author of Eco-Business: a Big-Brand Takeover of Sustainability, a book that addresses whether the recent corporate embrace of 'sustainability' is making any environmental impact on the Earth, said some positive steps are being taken, but brands, especially in the FMCG space, aren't doing enough. While companies like Unilever (which didn't make the Interbrand list) have pledged to halve the environmental impact of its products in the next ten years, it also wants to double sales, which, Dr Lister says, doesn't actually make an attempt to address the big problem: a world fuelled by consumption where the loop isn't being closed (for example, 70 percent of FMCG packaging still goes into landfill rather than being recycled). 

But there is hope: while they might be outliers, Nike is looking at waste streams as potential revenue streams and produced the Football World Cup jerseys out of recycled plastic and Puma's chief executive Jochen Zeitz is heavily involved with The B -Team alongside Derek Handley and Sir Richard Branson. 

Bickford says these companies have shareholders and they need to make money. That's the real world and that's unlikely to change soon. But what can change is the business's relationship with the communities in which it operates and the steps it takes to change its impact on the environment. 

“New Zealand brands are still in the ‘don’t print this e-mail’ mode when it comes to sustainability," he says. "Our brands must establish sustainability as a core business practice that’s deliverable both internally and externally. Innovation is at the heart of true sustainability and best global green brands are delivering, supported by a genuine story about how they are achieving their goals, regardless of industry." 

He says the lists shows us that "corporate ‘greenwashing’ behaviour is definitely history", although some would point to the recent Dole 'Ethical Choice' saga as evidence that it's still going strong. 

"The customer is demanding more performance and will not tolerate just perception," he says. "The time for doing has arrived. New Zealand brands will fall behind the curve if the sustainability agenda is not delivered openly to employees and customers alike.” 

The top 50 Best Global Green Brands report examines the gap that exists between a corporation’s environmental practices and consumers’ perceptions of those practices. When identifying the top 50 each year, Interbrand starts with the 100 brands that make up its annual Best Global Brands report and then conducts extensive consumer research to capture public perception of the brand’s sustainable or green practices and compares that to environmental sustainability performance data provided by Deloitte—data that is based upon publicly available information.

THE 2013 BEST GLOBAL GREEN BRANDS

2013 Rank

Brand

Change in Rank

2013 Gap

1

Toyota

0

-2.53

2

Ford

13

-2.57

3

Honda

0

-2.10

4

Panasonic

2

15.15

5

Nissan

16

2.06

6

Johnson & Johnson

-4

3.09

7

Volkswagen

-3

2.96

8

Danone

1

-0.62

9

Nokia

11

18.50

10

Dell

-3

8.17

11

Sony

7

7.09

12

HP

-7

10.32

13

BMW

-3

5.42

14

Nestlé

NEW

5.74

15

adidas

7

6.66

16

Samsung

9

7.68

17

Mercedes-Benz

-1

8.13

18

Siemens

-10

11.37

19

Coca-Cola

4

-13.65

20

L'Oréal

-6

17.91

21

Intel

6

12.03

22

Apple

-9

-0.93

23

Philips

8

7.39

24

3M

-12

4.33

25

GE

-1

-9.00

26

Pepsi

2

-0.88

27

IBM

-8

12.95

28

Cisco

-17

17.38

29

Xerox

3

15.71

30

Canon

-1

6.56

31

Nike

-5

1.18

32

UPS

11

1.54

33

IKEA

6

-11.18

34

Hyundai

-17

7.32

35

Microsoft

-2

-9.30

36

Starbucks

0

-4.83

37

Kia

NEW

6.11

38

Kellogg's

-3

-9.81

39

Caterpillar

-1

0.30

40

Shell

-6

-5.24

41

Avon

-4

5.13

42

H&M

4

4.02

43

Allianz

-13

1.40

44

AXA

-2

-1.55

45

SAP

-4

-2.91

46

Santander

-6

-5.18

47

McDonald's

-2

-21.27

48

ZARA

NEW

-3.39

49

Citi

-5

8.13

50

Colgate

NEW

-8.30

 

Key Themes

Innovation drives dominance of automotive brands in the top 10; Toyota retains its #1 position

Automotive brands make up 50 percent of this year’s top ten with Toyota (#1), Ford (#2), Honda (#3), Nissan (#5), and Volkswagen (#7) topping the list. Collectively, the heavily regulated auto industry has effectively showcased its innovations and firm commitment to manufacturing vehicles in an increasingly sustainable way. Although most automotive brands have invested in meeting sustainability goals and complying with regulations, those brands that have invested in creating innovative products as evidence of their commitment to sustainability (e.g., Toyota Prius, Ford EcoBoost, Nissan LEAF) are receiving more recognition from consumers.

Toyota, the #1 Best Global Green Brand for the third consecutive year, continues to dominate the hybrid vehicle market. The company sold more than 2.9 million Prius models worldwide in 2012. Toyota is also exploring the future of mobility by building a low carbon society called Toyota Ecoful Town in Toyota City, Japan. From reducing greenhouse gas emissions to using reusable metal containers for shipping and distribution, Toyota is a leading example of what can result—both in terms of performance and perception—when a company makes sustainability an integral part of its overarching business strategy.

The leading auto brands in this year’s report have made significant progress in regards to how their sustainability efforts are perceived by consumers worldwide. From managing to improve their stature on top sustainability reports and indexes, including the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), to investing in advertising spend, these brands are not hesitant to communicate their innovative and sustainable practices to consumers worldwide. But whether it will be enough 

Technology brands dominate the overall report; Panasonic leads the category

12 brands hail from a sector deeply rooted in innovation: technology. Technology brands are leveraging their core competency of engineering and cultural drive for constant innovation to increase their positive impact on the environment. On the whole, the tech sector leads the way in making environmental considerations a top priority, and this has even begun to influence other sectors as well. Whether it be efforts to reduce energy use through more efficient designs, or re-imagining how products are packaged and shipped, leading tech brands are turning their flagship offerings into performance and efficiency heroes. Panasonic (#4), the Japanese multinational electronics company, earned its position as the category leader by continuing to offer innovative, eco, and smart solutions to its global consumer base.

Sustainable fast fashion: Adidas, Nike, H&M, and ZARA are this year’s top apparel/retail brands

With the magnifying glass of social media hovering over apparel and retail brands, supply chain has graduated from a means of creating efficiency and lowering cost to a real indication of what these brands stands for. Adidas (#15), Nike (#31), H&M (#42), and Zara (#48) are the top ranking retail/apparel brands in this year’s report. Now, more than ever before, such brands are being held responsible for the quality and safety of their factories around the world. Adidas is closely scrutinising its supply chain, Nike has become more water- and-energy efficient, H&M has signed onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and Zara built an eco-friendly store in New York that features motion detectors to reduce energy consumption. 

Top risers (by rank): Nissan, Ford, UPS & Nokia

Nissan (#5) was the top riser on this year’s report. The brand moved up 16 places (from #21) and broke into the top ten. As with other brands in the auto sector, it is becoming increasingly committed to developing and promoting its green credentials. In February, the company announced that 50,000 LEAFs had been produced worldwide, making the LEAF the most widely sold electric passenger car of all time. Nissan plans to cut 15 percent of vehicle weight starting in 2017, and it has joined forces with Daimler and Ford to develop a line of affordable fuel-cell cars that will roll out in 2017. Reducing vehicle weight through smarter design and material selection, utilising renewable and sustainable materials, and turning to alternative fuels are just a few of the ways Nissan is making significant strides in the green arena—and proving that sustainability can, in fact, lead to profitability.

In 2012, Ford (#2) moved sustainability from the periphery to the centre of its business strategy. As a result, the American automaker moved up 13 spots to claim one of the top spots in this year’s report. Ford heavily promoted its EcoBoost engine in its best-selling F-150 pickup truck—a message that clearly resonated with consumers (in 2012, Ford sold 334,364 EcoBoost-equipped vehicles, more than one-and-a-half times the number it sold in 2011). 

Nokia (#9) and UPS (#32) both jumped 11 places. For nearly a decade, corporate responsibility has been a focal point at Nokia, the Finnish multinational technology corporation. As a result, Nokia holds prominent positions among several international sustainability rankings, including the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, and Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Sustainable Companies. Moving up nine places, UPS, the multi-billion-dollar corporation that focuses on enabling commerce around the globe, continues to explore new ways in which its knowledge of renewable energy and advanced fleet technology can be applied to every aspect of its business. UPS recently announced one of the largest single deployments of zero-emission vehicles in the world; a 100-strong fleet that will reduce consumption of conventional motor fuel by approximately 126,000 gallons per year. 

  • Check out the methodology here. 

 

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