Tag Archives: creativist

What is a sustainable brand?

My first post on this site looked at the definition of sustainability. The definition that I put forward was:

“Sustainability is a balance between the financial, human, and environmental. It is about living your values and acting with integrity, responsibility and generosity. It is about being in a community of discussion, dialogue and action – because no person or company is an island and everything is interconnected.”

Yet this blog is about sustainable brands, and so I have been thinking about what the definition of a sustainable brand might be. The answer that I have arrived at is as follows, and builds on my definition of sustainability:

A sustainable brand is one that has a meaning or purpose that goes beyond making money, instead seeking to increase the wellbeing of humanity and all life on our planet. It sees people as creativists, not consumers. And it understands the lifecycle and environmental impact of all its activities, so that it can seek to continuously innovate and reduce its impact to a minimum.

In summary, the three main elements are: purpose, people as creativists, and taking action on lifecycle impacts. Or to reduce even further: creating + connecting + acting. I will take a brief look at each of these three elements in turn:

1) Purpose

Santiago Gowland, VP of Brand Development and Global Corporate Responsibility at Unilever wrote “A lack of alignment around purpose slowly erodes attempts to be proactive toward any solution.” And we need companies that are creating solutions. There is increasing acknowledgement that just making money, to the exclusion of all other aims, is no longer good enough. Here is Umair Haque on the subject in an extract from his Harvard Review blog:

“The untapped capacity to create significance (and all the stuff that follows on from it — higher purpose, a sense of meaning, animating passion, intrinsic motivation) has never been more important: I’d gently suggest it’s the wellspring of 21st century advantage. As I’ve discussed at length both here and in my book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, the real roots of this crisis are that 20th century institutions, whether banks, governments, or corporations, are becoming more and more useless to people, communities, and society. They’re extracting wealth from them, instead of creating enduring, authentic value for them.”

A sustainable brand will be focusing on how to create enduring, authentic value – for the long-term and for all people.

2) People as creativists, not consumers
A sustainable brand is one that is forming a new type of relationship with its stakeholders: its employees, its customers, the communities in which it operates. The old model was one based of passivity: employees did what they were told within the framework of the company hierarchy; customers bought what the advertising suggested that they buy; communities got a hand-out if they were lucky.

In the past year and a half, I have been developing my thinking around my Creativist Manifesto. The manifesto states that the biggest choice that we have to make in society today is to be a creativist or a consumer. A consumer is passive and motivated by extrinsic values, and this is damaging to individuals, to society and to the planet. A creativist, in contrast, is active in creating their own identity and motivated by intrinsic values.

Companies, in different ways, are beginning to recognise the shift from consumers to creativists. For example, Skanska, the construction Group, in an article about the future of energy, talks about ‘prosumers’. It gives the example of a housing development in Heritage Springs, California, which claims to be the largest solar-powered community in the US. When the system produces more electricity than the homes are producing, households are given a credit back to their electricity bill. In this way each household becomes an ‘energy farmer’.

“This development revitalizes the term “prosumer,” coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler, who in the 1980s defined the prosumer as someone who blurs the distinction between a consumer and a producer. Energy Farmers are prosumers of the 21st century – urban citizens that are stakeholders in a local energy community. Systems like that of Heritage Springs build an intrinsic understanding of electricity by directly involving, engaging and empowering citizens in the abstract concept that is electricity use.”

The meaning of ‘prosumer’ is itself now not distinct, sometimes meaning ‘professional consumer’, and in my view ‘creativist’ is a more accurate term to use here – households which are not just consuming electricity, but actively creating it. Whichever term you choose to use, the principal is the same, and the concept will become more widespread across different sectors. It is the companies who both recognise and encourage the shift from consumers to creativists who will be leaders on the road to sustainability.

And in order to respond to, and be ahead of, the constantly changing world that we live in, companies need their employees to be creativists, not consumers – not passively along for the ride and their monthly paycheck, but creativists, bringing their creativity, their passions, their ideas to work.

3) Taking action on lifecycle
Companies such as InterfaceFLOR and Unilever are recognising that lifecycle analysis is essential to understanding the impacts of a company’s products, and therefore being able to identify where innovation is required in order to reduce impacts. It is this rigour and understanding which will provide companies with a solid base to innovate from, and allow them to take a real leadership position. For the best intentions and the best connections amount to nothing without taking action.

What is your view? What makes a sustainable brand? Please share your thoughts and examples.


The Creativist Manifesto

A quiet revolution is happening.

If you listen carefully, you can hear it all around you.

There is President Obama, saying that young people need to be making things, not just consuming them.

Design commentators are talking about ‘an age of participation’, in which we participate, not just consume.

Community movements such as Transition Towns are groups of local people, from Brixton to California to Australia, working together to devise creative, practical solutions to climate change and peak oil.

Chief Executives, such as Andy Bonds at ASDA, are saying that we are moving from DIY to CIY – create it yourself. But he still talks about us as consumers. And consumers are passive.

From consumer to creativist

A sustainable society begins with who we are.

Many of the routes proposed for sustainable development are ‘sticking plasters’ in that they do not address the fundamental reasons why our current way of life is not sustainable. One of the main reasons for this is our disconnection from our values and our gifts, from our communities and from the earth.

We are labeled as consumers. That is our identity. Our identity as consumers means that we are defining ourselves by what we do and have, not by who we are. Our identity as consumers has been manufactured so that there is a market for all the goods that are mass produced. In a sustainable society, we cannot defined by as consumers. We need a new identity. I am proposing that our new identity is as creativists.

Creativists actively create their identity, their place in the world, based on an understanding of their gifts, their values and the contribution that they can make. They are defined by who they are, not what they do or have. And by operating in the space of ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ or ‘have’, we open up new possibilities to create a new world. And we need to unlock our creativity to imagine a different way of living and working.

As creativists, we first need to reconnect with who we are. If we reconnect at an individual level, we can then begin to reconnect with our communities, with our work and with the earth.

Walt Disney said ‘We make money, so we can create things’. Most companies create things to make money. Creativist individuals and businesses make money so that they can create things. Things which are valuable, useful, beautiful – and sustainable. Creativists are not just creators, but they are part of a collective belief system, they are activists as well.

The Creativist Manifesto brings together thinking from different perspectives including philosophy, psychology, sociology and management theory. It looks at looks at the evidence that we are beginning to shift from a consumer to a creativist society, asks what the implications are, and questions how we can accelerate this shift – as individuals, as communities, as businesses – in order to speed the transition to a more sustainable society.

I am currently in the process of writing The Creativist Manifesto. I would love to hear your thoughts, observations and contributions to the debate – please get in touch.