• Transform magazine
  • June 22, 2024

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How brands can help save the planet - new ways to think about growth

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Bobbie Galvin, brand researcher at FreshBritain, takes a look at the work of Decathlon-owned mountaineering brand Simonds, and the way companies are starting to reimagine the metrics of corporate success.

Faced with a climate emergency we must live in a more purposeful way and businesses have to be part of the solution. To do so they need to adopt regenerative principles, redesigning themselves and the brands they own so as to have a positive impact. 

But change has to come from the very top of a business. The most progressive boards grasp the urgent need to reimagine what corporate success looks like in order to facilitate regenerative behaviour at every touchpoint, including how a brand or product shows up.  

Without a top-level reset, any effort to embed regenerative practices is a hollow endeavour that risks being abandoned when difficulties present themselves. It ends up as greenwashing pure and simple and there’s way too much of that at every turn.

Making brands accountable - regenerative measures of success

Regenerative leadership means thinking about growth from a totally new perspective. Conversations about “new metrics of corporate success” are picking up pace, but much too slowly. 

Boards need to reframe success beyond traditional profit and growth metrics such as shareholder value, revenue, margins, EBIT, stock market performance, units sold etc which are easy to measure. Choosing to measure success more regeneratively, with a focus on impacts, will forcibly drive a different set of progressive behaviours.  

We are not talking about abandoning growth and profits - that would be unrealistic and impractical. It’s about adopting different business structures, mindsets and practices to drive a new kind of corporate success. In simple terms, how to deliver ‘good’ growth.

Change is hard but there is hope

When it comes to individual brand action, we have identified five measures of success that can drive behaviour change. We find that once these new metrics are set and have senior buy-in, everything else falls into place:

  • Positive community engagement
  • Cultural enrichment
  • Positive environmental and climate impact
  • Higher levels of education 
  • Enhanced levels of wellbeing

Brands that are leading the charge, not just the usual suspects

Patagonia, Toms and Ben & Jerry’s are the names most commonly cited within the regenerative conversation. However, others are beginning to emerge.

Last year, Barbara Martin Coppola the CEO of Decathlon told a gathering of more than 700 INSEAD alumni in London that “Profit is not an accurate measure of business success….and that being driven solely by the bottom line is wrong for business, our happiness and the planet’s future.” 

She added that, “Decathlon now evaluates and incentivises its employee performance not just by their economic contribution but by what they are doing for the planet” and that “the company gives equal weight to financial, human and planet goals—and that every single product the company sells is being re-evaluated to see how its durability can be maximised.”

Decathlon-owned mountaineering brand Simond was born at the foot of Mont Blanc in the French Alps and has witnessed first-hand the glaciers melt away. A team at FreshBritain is working with the brand to support it in restoring respect for the mountain. 

This translates into moving away from a sole focus on physical goods towards a suite of services and experiences that includes: education/coaching (e.g. mountaineering tutorials); equipment repair and rental; adventure & travel experiences; nutrition/fitness advice specific to the category; medical/wellbeing services, (e.g. physio), all coming together holistically to accelerate a new kind of growth.

In Simond’s case, measuring corporate success will see a shift from traditional profit-only measures to metrics including:

  • How many people have been educated in alpinism and now adopt more sustainable practices when out in the mountains?
  • How has mountain culture benefited from the actions of the brand to be more regenerative? This can be as concrete as identifying less litter/debris left behind 
  • How many people have used repair services or joined and actively participated in a community owned by the brand that serves to educate?

Reasons to be cheerful

A great example from another sector is Chloe, who in 2021 became the first luxury brand to become a B Corp and the first fashion business to change the structure of its business and to place responsibility for its actions as a key measure of success. This as opposed to taking its product as a starting point by, for example, pledging to use only organic materials, which is the approach we most often see. 

Chloe’s Social Performance & Leverage tool elevates the brand's impact from mere legal compliance to positive contributions and responsibility to people's lives along the supply chain. The tool allows the brand to evaluate suppliers’ performance on six indicators — gender equality, living wage, diversity and inclusion, training, wellbeing and job quality. This helps to create a holistic view of a product's social and environmental impact, against which each Chloe item can be measured.

Reimagining the metrics of success is a journey that every business and its leadership team needs to urgently embark on. In order to reimagine growth, we need to reimagine brands. As long as businesses continue to obsess with purely profit-based frameworks to measure corporate success, they will damage the planet. Quite simply all of our futures depend on change happening sooner not later.