Are brands really bad for the planet?
I’m not a mainstream environmentalist for one very good reason – like any tribe, you need to sign up to a set of beliefs that are taken as gospel, but are often over-simplistic when you’re dealing with the real world. One of these beliefs is “Brands are bad” – brands are a symbol of consumerism and consumerism is killing the planet.
Well, yes and no. If you look the average Joe or Joanne’s carbon footprint it is dominated by the mundane – heating our homes, getting around, cooking, eating, lighting. With the exception of booze and soft drinks, these markets aren’t dominated by brands – no-one buys mains gas from one company because it has a better brand – and it’s all the same gas at the end of the day. You get on the train that’s at the station, rather than waiting for your favourite brand – you might specify a train provider because it is more comfortable or has wifi, but not because of the brand. The choice of petrol for your car is usually made on price and convenience factors rather than Shell, BP or Esso (unless you are actively boycotting one).
But let’s go onto consumer goods and look a what a brand is. Why do companies develop brands? Because they add intangible value to the products. That value has no carbon footprint – it is ephemeral. That intangible value is an aspect of human nature – we want stuff that makes us feel good whether it’s a designer label or an extremely expensive bicycle.
From an environmental point of view, it is actually better for a consumer to spend £300 on a pair of designer jeans (and look after them) than blow the same amount in a cheap highstreet clothing store and chuck the clothes when they get the slightest bit of wear and tear. Likewise, a posh champagne has roughly the same carbon footprint as a bog standard bottle of cava (and certainly less than the equivalent bottles you could buy for the same money), yet the former is seen as consumerism and the latter, not. It doesn’t make sense.
Branding can be a force for good. Many of the companies that are leading the way in going green are doing it to protect and enhance their brand. Marks & Spencer, Timberland and Apple spring to mind. Others like Body Shop, Patagonia and Natural Collection are brands which were founded with green/ethcis in mind. So never feel guilty about working for, developing or purchasing a big brand – there’s nothing immoral about it. Just make it a green brand and watch that intangible value grow even higher!