We found Giles Bones immersed in the fifth edition of Sustainable Brands Madrid, an annual meet-up for discussing sustainability and business. “A few years ago, I realised that I wanted to use by abilities to help create positive change in this world”, explains marketing, communication, and brand building specialist, who is currently focusing on helping companies transition to a more sustainable world. He does this work at The Creation Station and Quiero, a leading sustainability agency in Spain and the driver behind the Sustainable Brands meet-ups.
We often associate sustainability with the environment, but what is a sustainable business?
At the heart of the concept of sustainability are the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, which were created with the support of 175 countries to encourage change and improve the world we live in. These 17 goals include ending poverty and hunger, good health and wellbeing, climate action, and equality, and businesses are involved in all of this. The sustainability of a business is not just measured by the impact the business has on the environment, but also by the impact it has on its employees, the community, its stakeholders, and society.
Is it possible for a brand that does not consider its development from a sustainability point of view to be successful in the current climate?
The days of companies and brands that don’t direct their business, production, operations, and mentality towards sustainability are numbered. This is due in large part to the existence of a new, more demanding consumer and a series of factors that are creating the need for sustainability.
We are going to start to see regulation and more rigorous obligations that will directly affect business activity; the price of natural resources, which are becoming increasingly limited, will rise and this will force businesses to look for more sustainable and cheaper solutions. There already are, and will be more processes and technological advances which will allow for more sustainability at a lower cost and which will help streamline businesses. There is also growing pressure from employees, stakeholders, and the consumer.
Companies need to have a purpose and be authentic to connect with the new and emerging consumer that asks them to be responsible
Luckily, there are more and more companies that want to do good for society, the community, and the planet. Unsustainable businesses will not disappear overnight, but over time they will give up their market share to other, more sustainable ones that are starting to get more consumer support, who will put their product or service on the market with a smaller carbon footprint and the biggest possible positive impact, and, in many cases, in a more competitive way, because they will have refined many areas of their business to make them more efficient.
Do you know the 17 Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations?
As consumers, are we fulfilling our role of “drivers of change” for companies?
Consumers are realising the power that they have over brands and companies through purchasing decisions and their loyalty to one brand or another, which is why our buying power can directly influence a company’s profits. Then there are the massive disruptive collaborative movements like Desnuda la fruta, Extinction Rebellion, and Fridays for Change, which are examples of how individuals fighting together can force change to occur. This, combined with the power and connection of social media, almost makes transparency obligatory for brands and companies, because it makes it harder to hide. It is the beginning of a “revolution”, one which companies must be ready for by providing information and being more transparent in order to connect with consumers.
Is there a new type of conscious consumer?
The new consumer is extremely conscious, better informed, and less willing to conform, and they have clear values that they want to see reflected in the brands they use. They want them to be responsible, ethical, fair, and transparent. It’s not just millennials and later generations: a wide range of consumers have woken up.
Sé mas viejo (Be older), the latest campaign from Adolfo Dominguez, encourages us to consume less and better
But are we considering the environmental impact of brands enough?
We are starting to be more aware of it, but there is still a long way to go, mostly because of the lack of information about the products we consume. There are apps that tell you about the carbon footprint or origins of a product, and we are looking at what a product contains more and more; however, brands don’t always make it easy. We still go through life consuming blindly without knowing how the things we use are made, what we are eating or wearing, or the impact its production has had. If we were better informed, we would change a lot of our behaviours, without a doubt.
As workers, does the environmental impact of a company influence us when it comes to applying for a job?
This is happening more and more, and among young people more than anyone, as they want to work for companies that help build a better world and choose brands that fit their values. Job candidates now ask about the company’s values, its mission, its purpose, its environmental impact, the impact on local or rural communities, and its carbon footprint, as well as wanting to know if the companies offer a sustainable working environment. Human resource managers also attend Sustainable Brands to understand the change that is happening and how to apply it internally at their companies to satisfy employees, because employees are brand ambassadors and powerful conduits for spreading a company’s philosophy.
Going a week without plastic became a viral challenge this summer
The new consumer is extremely conscious, better informed, and less willing to conform, and they have clear values that they want to see reflected in the brands they use
A new edition of Sustainable Brands is happening in Madrid. Are big brands opting for this new philosophy of combining sustainability with business? Or is it easier to take on the development of a sustainable business as a small company?
Without a doubt, big companies are choosing it too, because they have to. Many are pioneers in the shift towards a circular business model, with a smaller carbon footprint and less pollution, reinventing their production processes, and using 100% of waste, among other things.
It will always be easier to change something small compared to something big but, for any company, this type of change requires huge effort and commitment. A small business has the advantage of being more versatile and being able to bring changes in faster, but it’s a bigger strain on resources for them. A bigger company, one which operates on a global level, requires a huge degree of planning and coordination and more time to implement sustainable changes in their business, activity, culture, and day-to-day operations.
Sustainable Brands Madrid 2019
Is the idea of ethical marketing and communications somewhat utopian or is it possible to sell without lying?
Though it might sound utopian to many, it can be, and already is a reality for many sustainable brands and companies that are committed. However, there continue to be too many cases of brands and companies that engage in bad practices like greenwashing. There should be more regulations, not just regarding what is appears i an ad, but also for packaging, such as the use of the word ‘recycled’ or ‘recyclable’, when the product isn’t actually recycled or recyclable.
While marketing has always been focused on creating a desire in the mind of the consumer so that they consume the product, responsible marketing conveys the values of the product or service and is based on honesty, reality, transparency, and humility. That indeed is the utopia of ethical and responsible marketing.
The days of companies and brands that don’t direct their business, production, operations, and mentality towards sustainability are numbered