Companies embracing a more sustainable business model are consequently completely reshaping their branding. I am not talking about greenwashing here, but rather organisations that put sustainability at the core of their strategy, and that guide any strategic decisions to be taken. This requires clear commitment and more than a traditional CSR programme or report. It is a game-changer. It will make your company stand out from the crowd.
Your corporate brand is derived from who you are, what you stand for, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. Simply put, it is your identity. Now, is sustainability really part of your identity? What is your engagement for people and our planet? What do you concretely stand for? Do people perceive it as greenwashing? These are some of the questions you should ask yourself. A well-defined corporate brand becomes your North Star. If you know who you are, you know where you are heading to.
I want to take you through an example of a role model company whenever we say sustainability: Patagonia. It is a US clothing company that markets and sells outdoor clothing. The company was founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973.
“At Patagonia, making profit is not the goal because the Zen master would say profits happen ‘when you do everything else right’.”
Mission and Values
“We are in business to save our home planet”. Concise, clear, and to the point.
It is not, “we sell the best outdoor clothes,” or “we are the coolest brand worn by Hollywood stars”. Patagonia does not focus on what they do. They focus on why they do it. It is a mission much bigger than the business they run, and how they want to contribute, along with all their stakeholders.
Let’s have a look at their values:
- Build the best product
- Cause no unnecessary harm
- Use business to protect nature
- Not bound by convention
No standard words such as “respect”, “collaboration” or “helpful”. Instead, they use verbs; they are action-oriented. The company culture is clear, straightforward, and deeply caring about the impact they are making in the world.
Patagonia employees are climate change activists. It is nothing like the traditional workplace where people are expected to wear formal clothes and work in a hostile, impersonal environment. They are people who love to spend time in the mountains or in the wild. They love nature and are committed to protecting it. And they are very clear about the people they hire: “We would not staff our trade show booth with a bunch of out-of-shape guys wearing white shirts, ties, and suspenders any more than a doctor would let his receptionist smoke in the office.” That’s a statement from their website! They even go one step further: Any employee who gets arrested for peacefully protesting for the environment will have bail paid by Patagonia.
They are very transparent about what they are good at, but also what they should improve on. No greenwashing. I recently came across an article with this title: “We’re learning how to become an antiracist company.” Socially connected to what’s happening in the US, I am amazed at how blunt they are in their communication. No bullshit. Just a company being honest and trying to change the world by changing themselves first.
As they say themselves: “We’re not looking for culture fit, we’re looking for culture add.”
Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, is a rock climber, surfer, kayaker, and falconer. He set out to build an “un-company” — one whose principal concern was taking care of employees, customers, and, above all else, the planet. His philosophy is not to encourage compulsive buying from clients, but rather push them to ask themselves: Do you really need it, or do you just want it? If you really need it and buy from us, we promise to fix it, no matter what. He is not buying into the traditional management principles we learn in business schools. He said himself that he hates managing people and telling them what to do. So, he hires self-motivated people, good at what they do, and leaves them alone to do it.
He is a true character, a trailblazer with his innovative business ideas, and completely thinking out of the box. He sets the tone of the company’s strong culture and leads by example. As he says, “if everybody goes right, I go left”.
And by the way, he’s never had his own office ☺.
At this stage, I think you get a feel for the company culture and the fact that not everybody can work for Patagonia. The CV does not matter for them, it is more about the candidate’s story, adventures, and passions. This way, they can see if the employee values match the company’s mission. They are very clear about the kind of candidates they look for: “We’ll often take a risk on an itinerant rock climber that we wouldn’t on a run-of-the-mill MBA” and “we don’t look for ‘stars’ seeking special treatment and perks”. Period.
Employees are taken care of at Patagonia, with a bunch of benefits reflecting their values such as, up to two months off – with pay – to volunteer with an environmental organisation or onsite childcare centre. Employees are not a random bunch of people coming to work to get a monthly salary, it is a cohesive group of like-minded people. The clearer your corporate brand is, the easier it is to attract the right people.
Patagonia’s corporate brand is very strong. It stands out from the crowd and does not follow the standards of traditional business. Sustainability is such an integral part of their DNA, they do not even need to use this word! Anytime I see Patagonia, I am immediately attracted to it and want to buy it. Because I know what’s behind the product: a fantastic corporate brand!