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Curious Conversations: Branding & Sustainability


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Hello! Join us for the first in a series of interesting conversations designed to get us thinking, acting, and questioning more.

Here our MD, Nikki Fraser, and Phil Hardwick, CEO of environmental markets company, HCBL, ask whether we are doing enough to put sustainability at the heart of business. It’s time to talk.

View the HCBL case study here

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    • Branding
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    Weaving sustainability into the fabric of your brand


    • Branding
    • Naming

    You know the science, but a quick recap will sharpen our minds.

    Carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels has caused temperatures to rise by 1-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, floods that we are witnessing around the world are caused by this 1-degrees increase. If society, as we know it, is to survive, we need to limit this global temperature increase within the 1.5 degrees defence line (The Paris Agreement). If emissions continue climbing as they have been, we will be adding enough carbon to the air to take us past the 1.5 degrees tipping point in less than 8-years-time. We need to reduce the carbon we have been releasing year upon year – we have until 2030 to half emissions. By 2050, or sooner, we need to be at the stage where no incremental greenhouse gases are emitted. This is net zero.

    Making your purpose more purposeful 

    According to a Nielson Study in 2018, 81% of consumers feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. Which is why it is critical to the success of businesses that the UN sustainable goals are taking firm root at the heart of business strategy – the E, S and Gs (Environmental, Social and Governance). Your consumers (and employees and stakeholders) want to be aligned with a brighter, cleaner and more sustainable future. They want to know you’re caring for the environment, looking out for your employees, supporting local communities, and dealing ethically. Companies that don’t openly and transparently share their values and behaviours and embrace the responsibility of making the world a better place, will no longer be relevant, visible or viable.

    Brand is a powerful ally. Through strategy and creativity, it can embed sustainability into your identity, into your personality and proposition – deepening the emotional connection between your brand and your consumers. And show you’re genuinely committed to driving positive change. It is our belief brand can move us on from mass consumerism and help shape the net zero world we need next.

    How do you sustain your story?

    Businesses need to incorporate sustainability as a core value and not a marketing strategy. But this needs thinking about. You can’t just put the words, “We are a sustainable company” in with your other values (well you can but it won’t help you stand out) and say job done. How can you reinforce your commitment to sustainability and bring it to life as a core value and beyond?

    Aside from solid climate-related data illustrating your brand’s sustainability journey, functional facts graphically executed, we think it’s about making you matter to your audience through emotive and memorable storytelling. We are mindful of giving brands an edge, creating an ownable difference with a clear visual and verbal tonal link to the essence of your brand. When a brand knows what it’s about, your tone of voice is clearer and stronger – and your sustainability messages can come across more authentically and consistently. From you. And not as a bolt-on, as we like to call it. Unique and genuine narratives, or brand territories, strengthen a brand’s identity and capture the hearts and minds of your consumers.

    Let’s make this tangible

    Consider our recent rebrand for our client Evero, a waste to renewable energy company. They literally move mountains of landfill, reusing millions and millions of tons of waste to supply sustainable, reliable, affordable energy. A force for good, we increased recognition of the impact they were making by repositioning them as the natural restorers of balance in the world. This strategic and creative ‘reset’ idea was taken right through from look and feel to the logo and naming. Like the Earth on its axis, the logo tilts at 23.4 degrees. And the new Evero name – purposely ends in ‘O’ to reference the circular economy. In effect, we created sustainability branding that reflects the company’s crucial mission of safeguarding our planet for generations to come.

    “Save the planet” everyone’s got the same brief 

    So, this is the challenge. You might find it deeply fascinating for your touchpoints to wax lyrical about your sustainability pillars, but your consumers still want your brand to engage. How do you decrease your impact on the world without decreasing your impact as a brand? Another way, aside from storytelling, is to use your transformative powers to make the journey to net zero easier for your consumers. Rather than looking inward ‘nurture’ them with the positive behaviours that lead to lower-carbon lives. Inspire with your knowledge. Excite with your technology. Invite them to join your initiatives and community. Ask for their feedback. Brands who take the lead on sustainability are the ones who stand out – this is a commercial opportunity to rise above Same.     

    We’re just curious…

    • Are you embedding sustainability goals into your business?
    • How are you weaving safeguarding the planet into your proposition and personality?
    • Have you included sustainability into your values?
    • Do your employees know about your sustainability journey. Do they feel involved?

    Feel free to get in touch if you’re curious about how we can help.

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      • Brand Strategy
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      A lesson in living brand purpose


      • Brand Strategy
      • Sustainability

      Curious MD Nikki Cunningham recently wrote an article praising Patagonia’s decision to donate itself to charity. Their dedication to their brand values is admirable, and it got us thinking, which other companies put their money where their mouth is when it comes to purpose? And what happens when brands miss the mark?

      School’s in session

      The model student: Patagonia

      Perhaps the ultimate example. We recently wrote about Patagonia’s decision to donate the majority of their shares to charity is only the latest in a long history of actions that aid their purpose. Patagonia proudly proclaim their purpose and because they consistently perform actions that support their pledge to save the planet, consumers with a strong environmental conscious chose to support them.

      Still learning: boohoo

      At the same time as Patagonia made their big announcement, Kourtney Kardashian Barker unveiled her new position as ‘sustainability ambassador’ at boohoo. In her own words, she admits that she ‘doesn’t have all the answers’ but believes any progress towards sustainability is ‘a step in the right direction’.

      This is a nice sentiment, but it is hard to believe boohoo are genuinely committed to a more sustainable agenda. They add 700 new styles to their site every week (Source) and have a reputation for treating staff poorly. Even within the capsule collection that they have released to celebrate the partnership, not all the clothes are made from recycled materials. Less talk, more action needed.

      Star pupil: Bodyform

      Period product seller Bodyform are on a mission to dismantle taboos and shame around women’s bodies. They have a clear image of their audience and know what makes them tick: their bold brand communications speak directly to them and speak about issues they care about.

      Bodyform will be well aware that acknowledging the complicated relationship women have with their bodies will offend and displease some who see their marketing material, but for their target audience, this frank approach is what might ultimately convert them to becoming customers.


      Class clown: McDonald’s

      In 2019, McDonald’s swapped their plastic straws for paper. On the surface, this seemed like a great idea; single use plastic was a big issue at the time. But, when it was revealed that the new paper straws couldn’t be recycled, whereas the plastic ones could, McDonald’s was left looking foolish.

      The unfortunate (and let’s be honest slightly comedic) incident made appear to consumers that McDonald’s cared more about having green associations than reducing their environmental impact.

      A dedicated student: Who Gives a Crap…

      Do one thing really well. That’s what we can learn from toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap. Purpose has clearly driven the creation of their brand. Their way of generating income (loo roll subscriptions) is undoubtedly related to their core purpose of ending toilet poverty. It’s easy for their consumers to understand and link them in their minds.

      They experienced exponential growth in popularity over lockdown but kept their activities simple. This has meant their purpose has not been diluted.

      Could try harder: Knorr (H3)

      Knorr proclaim that wholesome, nutritious food should be accessible to all – an admirable goal. But when you look at their range which contains products like ‘Butter flavour’ pasta you have to wonder if their taste team might have let purpose slip their mind.

      Lessons learnt

      Looking at the examples above, there’s a lot we can learn from the way they approach purpose – both good and bad.

      Keep purpose front of mind (H3)

      Purpose is your brand’s reason for existing. For it to be authentic, purpose can’t be something you arbitrarily decide on when starting your business. It needs to be true to you, and you need to be able to demonstrate continually.

      To grow your reputation as a purpose-led brand may take time and will require commitment. One reason Patagonia has succeeded where Knorr has failed is that they have consistently completed actions that further their aim of helping the planet. Purpose comes through all aspects of their business, including how and what they make – not just in their marketing.

      Mass appeal isn’t everything

      When considering purpose, it can be tempting to pick a popular issue, but you need to be honest about what motivates you and go from there. Not everyone will buy into your brand, and that’s okay. If you resonate with your target audience, that’s all that matters.

      Bodyform’s success comes down to how well they know their audience. They know they might offend or put off some consumers, but they don’t care: if you’re offended, then you’re not who they’re talking to.

      Stay in your lane

      You don’t need to comment on every issue. If a topic something isn’t related to your product, purpose or business, you might appear inauthentic if you try to claim it’s important to you.

      boohoo make fashionable products that are up-to-date and affordable. They are a fashion brand for a social generation and have their finger on the pulse of popular culture. However, their production model and attitude towards fast fashion makes them seeminsinsere when they comment on sustainability.

      Want to enrol?

      Building brand purpose is Curious’ bread and butter – we work with all kinds of brands to discover, verbalise and visualise their purpose. We’ve put together a guide on how to do it. But the SparkNotes version is, you need to start by asking yourself why. Why does your business do what you do? Not how you do it, or what you do, but why. If you can answer that question, that’s your purpose.

      It can take a lot of thought and head-scratching, but if you can find your purpose (and stick to it), it can bring your business lots of benefits. Purposeful brands have credibility and respect from consumers and increased loyalty from consumers who share the values they represent. They also tend to have good brand recognition and high public opinion. So, what are you waiting for? Time to get to work.

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        From the team: An excellent example of living your truth


        • Brand Strategy
        • Sustainability

        Curious MD Nikki Cunningham talks about how Patagonia lives and breathes its brand purpose and how other brands should take note. (Warning: it’s not easy to achieve).

        In business to save the planet

        Last week, Yvon Chouinard, founder of outdoor clothing and equipment retailer Patagonia, made a surprise announcement that he had donated the company. The entire company. A move that means, after reinvestment, all of Patagonia’s profits will be donated to charities that will fight the environmental crisis, protect nature and biodiversity, and support thriving communities.

        At a time when trust in many forms is low, it’s refreshing to see a brand following through on what it says it believes in. Though that in itself is a problem – why is it we don’t trust what brands say, and what can they do to restore our faith?

        The overcommunication issue

        Brand purpose is regarded with scepticism. Almost all businesses make grand acclimations about their purpose, and only a few live up to their promise. Too often, companies think they can fulfil their purpose by putting out official statements in response to current events. In other words, be lazy.

        In normal circumstances, we’re big fans of communication; it’s vital for healthy, happy relationships. But, when you’re speaking for the sake of speaking, you do your brand more harm than good. Not backing up what you say with actions will make consumers doubt you mean what you say. Inauthenticity is far worse than if you said nothing.

        Patagonia founder Yvon Choinard. Image Tom Frost


        Why does purpose work for Patagonia?

        ‘We appreciate that all life on earth is under threat of extinction. We’re using the resources we have – our business our investments, our voice and our imaginations – to do something about it.’

        From any other company this might sound like empty words, but for Patagonia, this sentiment guides everything they do. They don’t just talk about caring for the environment – they do something about it. They live their purpose.

        A timeline of action

        1985: 1% for the planet was launched. Patagonia began to donate 1% of every sale to climate charities.
        2007: The Footprint Chronicles is launched. It traces the social and environmental impact of Patagonia’s products.
        2012: Patagonia became a certified B Corporation and registered as a benefit corporation in the State of California.
        2017: Merchandise in good condition can be returned for new merchandise credits. The used merchandise is cleaned, repaired and sold on its “Worn Wear” website.
        2019: ReCrafted was launched. It creates and sells clothing made from scraps of fabric from used Patagonia gear.
        2020: Patagonia suspended its advertising on Facebook and Instagram as part of the “stop Hate for Profit” campaign.
        2022. Patagonia is donated to charity.

        And this timeline doesn’t account for all of the indirect effects Patagonia has had. From funding charities, helping grassroots groups, and the actions of individuals inspired by their films, books and articles.

        Throughout its almost 50 years of trading, Patagonia has always been committed to producing good quality, long-lasting products that don’t cost the earth. They’ve used actions to back up their words. They’ve lived their purpose.

        Will others follow?

        For Patagonia, donating themselves to charity wasn’t as rash a move as it might have initially appeared; they have a long history of action. It would undoubtedly be difficult for other companies to do the same as Patagonia. Their history, structure and employees who share the company’s vision all mean they can enact change much more quickly than a standard business. But, we hope that it encourages others to consider how to go beyond words and act on their purpose. What they actually believe in. Wouldn’t that be something.

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          From the Curious team: How to avoid ‘Greenwashing’ your brand


          • Brand Strategy
          • Sustainability

          Curious designer Emma Clarke takes a look at what being green really means when it comes to branding…

          Creating a sustainable brand is no longer a niche topic.  No matter where you look there will be something that mentions either climate change or sustainability. Finally people are starting to realise that our impact is becoming a significant threat to the planet. But if we don’t start actually addressing these issues now, will our planet still be around in 50 years time?

          The time to step up is here

          Most consumers in the past few years have started to incorporate sustainable practices in their day to day lives. This includes providing things such as reusable coffee cups, reusable straws and avoiding single use plastics (take note McDonald’s). And this has opened up a whole new marketplace for brands to grow into and for new brands to fill a gap. Consumers are becoming more clued up on where their products are coming from and the process behind how their products are made. There’s a rise in consumers seeking out brands which are more environmentally friendly. Companies are being forced to step up, listen and be more transparent. Brands who are failing to address these issues are losing out on a whole group of consumers.

          Over the past few years, more and more sustainable brands have been popping up and growing in popularity. And a lot of these brands have been joining the market in a very disruptive way.

          Here are a few that have been leading the way and making a positive impact…


          oatly sustainability report
          Source: Oatly

          Although Oatly has been around for years they have really started to dominate the sustainability market. Take their disruptive and playful slogan ‘like milk, but for humans’ as an example. They get across their message of doing everything they can to produce a plant-based milk in a way that’s the least harmful to the environment as possible.

          For years Oatly has been releasing an annual sustainability report. This sounds like it would be a very dull, filled with pages and pages of technical jargon but Oatly has put their unique spin on it. Although the report is very informative, the pages are filled with illustrations and key stats pulled out in Oatly’s quirky tone of voice. This has made a document which would probably just be skimmed past into something which is actually enjoyable to read. Not only are Oatly producing a product which aligns with many consumers’ beliefs, they are educating people on ways in which brands should be stepping up and listening to those consumers’ beliefs.


          KeepCup, a certified b corporation
          Source: KeepCup

          Another brand which has been pioneering the sustainable marketplace is KeepCup. Nowadays when you walk into a coffee shop you’ll almost always see someone getting their coffee in a reusable cup. KeepCup has created a product which makes having a significant environmental impact a very simple task. But their goal isn’t just reducing their consumers’ environmental footprint. KeepCup has a very detailed responsibility section on their website outlining all the ways in which they are trying to be as environmentally conscious as possible. A large part of this is how they manufacture their products. They have made a real effort to try and manufacture close to where they are selling, thereby reducing their transit footprint – “The savings are not financial; they are environmental.”


          teapigs packaging breakdown
          Source: teapigs

          Teapigs is another great example of a brand really doing their bit for the planet. Their whole brand was built off trying to make every product they create either recyclable, compostable or made from recycled materials. With tea bags being a generally non-recyclable product, Teapigs have taken it upon themselves to create tea bags which contain no plastic. Their tea bags even come in a bag which looks like plastic but is made from wood pulp, so is also compostable. They were the first tea company to be certified plastic free. Even though they are no longer the only certified plastic free tea company, they led the way. Other companies, take note.

          The new environmental changes and breakthroughs shouldn’t just be down to challenger brands popping up, the large corporations have a role to play too. Consumers are becoming more interested in knowing what large brands are doing about their environmental responsibility.


          danone sustainability model
          Source: Danone

          Danone is a large corporation making big changes to adapt to the new sustainability conscious world. They are learning and growing from how their production journey impacts the environment, and ways to improve this. Over the last few years they have made a real attempt on reducing their emissions, from the very beginning of their production line all the way through to delivering to consumers. They’re even telling everyone when they believe what they’re doing isn’t enough for goodness sake! But this shows consumers that the brand is honest. It’s also a great step forward to show other brands that it’s okay not to get it 100% right first time (after all, we can’t all be perfect).

          Put your money where your mouth (brand) is

          Consumers are paying more attention to which brands are addressing the sustainability issues and which brands aren’t. If brands want to survive in today’s world, they’re going to have to do more than just talk about environmental issues. They are going to have to really work on them. Consumers want to see dedication to the plan. All these new businesses popping up have really helped to educate people on what can be done. But is this causing other companies to see what people want and start to greenwash? Or will consumers become savvy to this giving smaller companies the chance to keep proving themselves?

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