Brands attempt to make a profit without making excessive waste. Across categories, businesses must fix environmental problems they created.

The pressure on companies to “right the wrongs” has never been so great. As governments are increasing seen as failing, people are looking to businesses to act as forces for good in society. Social media’s spotlight shines ever brighter, loudly applauding the winners and quickly turning against the perceived losers. And workers of a new generation are not only demanding responsible, ethical employers, but are working their way higher in the business to create the change. 

It’s now no longer enough to have a positive CSR or “social good” addition to the business. Companies will have to look at how they can actually change their business for the world’s good. Leading companies are recognizing the impact they are having on our planet, its people and resources, and are developing innovation strategies to address it.  

From operations and supply chain, to product and its distribution, how can all aspects of a business be re-thought to have a better impact on the world… or indeed, no impact. The notion of the “circular economy” has been talked about for a while, but we’re now seeing it fast becoming a reality as big brands publicly take on this ambition. The race really is on to find effective—and, importantly, profitable—business models that leave no trace.  

Naturally the apparel sector has (had to) take a lot of initiative in this space, with many companies looking at ways to reduce their footprint and the impact of fast fashion. 

We’ve seen the H&M Group roll out a large-scale recycling scheme across its portfolio, Patagonia’s continued commitment to a “repair more, buy less” philosophy with its “Worn Wear” program, Reebok presenting a biodegradable sneaker made with new materials. 

adidas’ partnership with Parley—the network set up to protect the world’s oceans—helped take “waste responsibility,” particularly in plastics, into the mainstream. The collaboration focused on the positive use of waste; taking plastic from the ocean and turning it into athletic shoes on the feet of trendsetters around the globe and shirts on the backs of footballing megastars. And the sports brand’s commitment to circularity and a better future has just been further reiterated, through its recent announcement of FutureCraft.Loop, a performance shoe that has been made to be remade. Created from a 100 percent recyclable plastic, this is adidas’ first running shoe that will never be thrown away, an innovation they hope will be the start of the end of waste. 

And it’s not just in apparel. Earlier this year we saw P&G become the first consumer products company to align with Loop, a circular e-commerce platform developed by international recycling leader TerraCycle. The new shopping model will see consumers rent dedicated luxury packaging for their favorite household brands—be it Pantene, Tide or Oral-B—and refills will come to their door. The elimination of single-use packaging will yield a significant reduction in waste. This ground-breaking shopping solution will enable circularity at scale and will strengthen the realism of this mindset. And by also offering convenience and more stylish packaging people can be proud of in their home, this solution further boosts the sustainable option’s chance of success.  

The notion of a rental lifestyle is due to hit many aspects of our lives. After famously—and bravely—declaring we are reaching “peak stuff,” IKEA has just unveiled plans to rent its products to consumers for the first time. The world’s largest furniture manufacture will trial a leasing system across it Swedish stores as it strives to become a “net-positive” business by 2030. Under the new approach, customers would rent their furniture for a set period before it’s taken back for either refurbishment, upcycling, resale or recycling… and the customer gets to pick something new. Perfect for keeping up with ever-changing trends, desires or life demands. 

So, while the notion of sustainability and circularity isn’t new, it’s now no longer a nice consideration or an add-on. Customers, employees, and indeed the planet, are demanding fundamental changes. Companies that are rethinking and reshaping through this lens are painting a positive future for their business, and society at large. Successful future brands will not strive to plaster over the cracks created by business, they will not create the cracks in the first place. And from here consider how they can then truly add to the world to build netpositive brands of the future. 

This article was first published in the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands Report 2019. 

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