Archive for May, 2012

What you don’t know about sustainability could come back to bite you in the brand assets: Guest Post from Green Briefs

May 31, 2012

When we read this post that Lorne Craig of Unicycle Creative wrote for Sustainable Brands, we couldn’t help but share it. It’s a great read on what marketers need to know about sustainability (and why they need to know it). Plus, Lorne’s Green Brief’s Blog has the best logo ever.

The Golden Age of Marketing was like the Golden Age of Air Travel – a worry-free world of possibility, where confident captains whisked you away to exotic destinations with drinks served by beautiful people. No one made you take off your shoes at security. Heck, no one even asked you to butt out your Marlboro once the No Smoking sign was off.

These days, marketing is more like a round-the-world flight with 50 stopovers under terror threat twelve. Woe to those who don’t know what is hiding in their corporate baggage.

Welcome to Sustainability Literacy 101. Once the lonely purview of university professors and public TV documentary hosts, this thick file of supply chain subterfuge, carbon calculation and global guilt gone wild has now landed squarely on the marketer’s desk.

So what do you need to know? As no two brands have the same sustainability context, it helps to understand the issues in your space. An electronics marketer should be familiar with the traditional vulnerabilities of offshore manufacturing, like factory working conditions, child labor, conflict minerals and hazardous material content. Companies that make anything that goes in us, on us, or around us (think food, cosmetics and cleaning products), may have to go even further up their supply chain to understand production of sub-ingredients, sourcing of raw materials and even post-consumer biodegradability.

But can’t we just forward all those grumpy calls to the Customer Service line? Or better yet, to the freshly-minted Sustainability Coordinator in the repurposed janitorial closet office down the hall?

No, for two reasons.

Risk And Opportunity

As marketers, it is our job to tell the stories about our brands that engage people. As we filter through agency pitches, website content and social media mayhem, it is easy to approve an idea that could have unfortunate fall-out. (Like launching a North America-wide video contest for kids just as a story breaks about child-labor infractions in your supplier factory overseas) Even if your obscure B2B communications never see the public light of day, it is critical that you understand where you are most sustainably vulnerable.

Sustainability illiteracy could also cost you competitively. Many companies do more than what is required by regulation, and too often, the people and passion behind these efforts go unsung. These tales can be the stuff of viral media legend, putting you head and shoulders above competition that does not know or care enough to share them.

So how do you begin to tackle this world of science, faith and superstition?

Getting Started

One useful resource I have found is the website for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a widely accepted standard for sustainability reporting. Their G3.1 Guidelines put issues of social, environmental and economic sustainability into categories that can help you see which are most relevant.

Consider involving your sustainability department in a marketing brainstorming session, to create a stronger bond between what your company is saying and what it is actually delivering.

And don’t forget to engage your stakeholders. Talk to your customers, sales team, and executive about which sustainability issues are most pressing. This can narrow your field of inquiry into what might otherwise be a very deep rabbit hole.

Above all, as you embark on your Sustainability Literacy voyage, remember the world of marketing should still reflect a glow of the golden age. The main objective of knowing what your baggage contains is to avoid the rubber glove at security, but you should always enjoy the view out the window once you take flight.

Preferably while sipping an organic, fair-trade-certified piña colada with an FSC-certified paper umbrella in it.

Check out more Green Briefs here.

A Changing Market: Fairware’s Success Reflects a Shift Towards Corporate Sustainability Efforts

May 21, 2012

Fairware is pleased to announce that we have been ranked #9 on a list of the top ten fastest growing promotional product distributors in North America by the ASI Counselor Magazine .

We have more than doubled in size over the last 3 years, growing an astonishing 117%. This bit of news is not only an acknowledgement of the hard work we’ve put in, but also recognition of the changing face of business.

According to, distributor revenues increased only 5.89% from 2009 to 2010, with other reports suggesting growth slowed to the single digits from 2009 to 2011.

Our staggering growth in an industry otherwise in a slump reflects a welcome shift towards corporate social responsibility. The market is embracing doing business differently, and it’s refreshing to see that our longstanding commitment to ethical sourcing and sustainable product distribution is becoming a standard.

This positive market response is not only encouraging for us at Fairware, but also for the planet. An interesting report done in 2001 by and Ernst and Young on Trends in Corporate Sustainability mirrors this sentiment. According to the study, this movement towards corporate sustainability efforts is made ever stronger by its resilience during the current recession and recovery.

Fairware is proud to exemplify a flourishing company that limits its impact on the environment. We hope our success inspires other businesses to adopt our commitment to doing business differently. For more information about our corporate social responsibility best practices, please contact Denise Taschereau at

Two Words: Alignment and Authenticity > Guest Post from Conscientious Innovation

May 18, 2012

This article was written by Kierstin DeWest of Conscientious Innovation (Ci). Ci  is a strategic information company founded in 2002 focused on insight for innovation, business success and a better world. Ci produces the Shift Report; a strategic research tool specifically designed for innovation, business success and positive change. 

I was recently at lunch with two friends, one of whom brought her husband. After the couple departed, I found myself apologizing to my other friend for the husband’s rude behavior, the mildest part of which included leering gestures at the waitress and comments that don’t need to be repeated.

“Don’t worry about it,” he responded. “I always try to focus on the points of alignment with someone. There’s always something. And once I found them, it was an interesting conversation where we were both engaged.”

Alignment is crucial.

As businesses seek to define and tell their sustainability story in the landscape of shifting consumer values — which they must do in order to be culturally relevant — there has been significant focus on environmental issues where there is less likely to be alignment and which aren’t necessarily the most important to some people.

Sustainability (a word so overused, misused and abused that I’ve started calling it the S-Word) is about the issues that lie underneath it. These are a collection of issues that include but go beyond green and include personal, social and spiritual sustainability issues.

This was uncovered both qualitatively and quantitatively in our market intelligence tool, The SHIFT Report. These sustainability issues are important to mainstream consumers in varying degrees. However, across most consumers groups — from either a brand consumption, activity, demographic, lifestyle or political point of view — green issues are not necessarily the most important ones. They are significantly surpassed in importance by social and personal sustainability issues: community connection, fair trade and employee treatment. These are areas consumers feel personally affected by or connected to, and represent two key motivations for caring about brands and companies.

People aren’t waking up across the globe declaring, “I want a green life.” Rather, they are waking up saying that they want a connected, conscious, thriving and sustainable life (though they don’t necessarily use those words). Brands and their storytellers need to understand this in order to define and tell their stories and engage consumers in conversations. As one respondent put it during one of our focus groups, “How can we take care of the environment if we can’t even take care of ourselves?”

Environmental sustainability is crucial, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Green needs to be looked at in the context of other sustainability issues, not in a silo. Green may turn out to be the best color of a brand’s sustainability message, but it might not be.

Unless brand manager focus on the issues that define a brand and determine which issues authentically align with their initiatives and audience, they risk making misleading claims, not connecting with their audience and potentially alienating others. When brand managers targeting a diverse global or national audience look primarily at environmental issues without interconnection and context to broader sustainability issues, the result can be a brand experience that doesn’t bring disparate and diverse audiences together, but keeps them apart. Looking at green in a silo doesn’t reflect a big-picture understanding of the cultural shift to sustainability, in which people are redefining the criteria by which they make lifestyle choices, purchases and brand decisions, It misses the forest for the trees, and in doing so can also reinforce sustainability myths, such as that those on the political left are more engaged with sustainability than those on the political right.

Indeed, looking at political parties in the U.S. and Canada and how voters connect with sustainability issues is a good way to assess brand alignment within a mass and diverse mainstream audience. For Republican and Democrat voters (or, in Canada, Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green Party voters), alignment is not necessarily around environmental issues, it’s around all the other issues: schools, housing security, health care and general well-being. This bigger-picture, interconnected approach doesn’t minimize the importance of environmental sustainability. But it delivers on its importance in a different way.

Let’s take look at two social sustainability issues where there is alignment across a diverse audience: community connection and supporting locally based business, which are themselves interconnected. With the support of local business and local economies, the environment becomes the beneficiary (such as lower greenhouse gas emissions) rather than the direct strategy. Environmental sustainability issues are supported, but they are a direct result of focusing on key areas of alignment across a diverse audience: buying local and supporting locally based business.

Thus, brands — political or otherwise — that speak to a diverse audience have two key words to keep in mind when telling their story in a culture of shifting consumer values: authenticity and alignment. What can they authentically talk about given their initiatives around sustainability? And where do these internal sustainability truths align with their diverse audience?

Determining the sweet spot that aligns these truths will uncover opportunities that deliver on business priorities to drive positive change and business success.

Read the original post here:

Headlines and Hemlines: What Will the Gildan-Anvil Deal Mean for Anvil’s Sustainability Mandate?

May 14, 2012

Early this month, Canadian clothing manufacturer Gildan Activewear secured an $88-million deal to buy New York-based T-shirt and sportswear manufacturer, Anvil Apparel. Fairware has had a strong relationship with Anvil, whose socially and environmentallyfriendly approach to business strikes a chord with our own mission.

This buyout has raised a number of questions—and concerns—for us. Will Gildan keep Anvil’s unionized manufacturing facility? Will Gildan embrace Anvil’s sustainable apparel line?

We strive to provide our clients with ethically sourced and sustainable merchandise, and we have been great supporters of Anvil. Over the last five years, Anvil has made great strides towards brand sustainability. Their value statement mirrors our own: To operate our business with a deep and continued commitment to respecting the planet and all who live on it.

Anvil ranks as the 6th largest organic program in the world on the Organic Exchange and has launched an impressive “eco”-clothing line using fibers such as organic cotton, recycled cotton, transitional cotton and recycled polyester from PET bottles. They are a progressive and committed company that not only adheres to a socially and environmentally responsible business model, but also strives to educate the public on its initiative. Their interactive “Track My T” website gives customers a chance to see the progression of their T-shirt from “dirt to shirt.”

Gildan Activewear is a major player in its field. The Montreal-based company has been recognized as one of Canada’s Best Corporate Citizens for two years running, and is a member of the Fair Labor Association. However, its track record also is marred by some serious allegations of anti-union activities and violations of workers’ rights. Despite taking steps towards reducing its environmental impact and promoting green operations, they have not yet ventured into manufacturing organic or recycled apparel.

This buyout begs the question: Will the acquisition of Anvil inspire Gildan to enter the organic/recycled apparel game? Or will Gildan drop the Anvil sustainability line entirely? While Gildan is the bigger of the two brands, we hope they’ll take Anvil’s 5 Rules for Building a Sustainable Brand to heart.

We at Fairware will be watching closely as this story continues to unravel.

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