The 5 Sustainable Brand Stages - A Manifesto

Sustainability has taken hold in corporations around the world. Businesses are moving forward with initiatives to save energy, be more efficient, hold supply chains accountable, and more. Once they achieve a measure of success internally, the next step is to find a way to ensure their products and services "do no harm" once they're out in the market. An increasing number of visionary leaders are finding ways to transform their category and even the way we think about business' role in society. These market-facing efforts in sustainability are translating into benefits not only for the planet and society, but also for business' reputation and revenue. It's a win/win all around.

And that's where the Five Sustainable Brand Stages come in. We've developed this model to aid businesses in building credible market-facing brand reputations, as well as finding ways to leverage sustainability into competitive advantage and customer loyalty. Because we believe that when businesses find financial incentives in solving the myriad problems facing this world, that's when things can really start changing. Let's wield the double-edged sword of capitalism in a way that heals, not harms.

The Five Stages include: Laggard, Trial, Emergent, Integrated and Transformative. Note that there is no right or wrong Stage; the point is not always to migrate to Transformative. How far you go will depend on the receptivity of your current customer base, your category in which you operate, and a host of other factors. You'll determine your brand stage by evaluating your company's efforts in six areas:

  • Scope of Sustainability Strategy: Are you focused simply on risk mitigation or transforming your entire category?
  • Sustainable Brand Strategy: Have you put a stake in the ground by integrating sustainability into your brand portfolio? Would you put a brand manager in charge of your sustainability-branded products, services and initiatives?
  • Sustainability Positioning: To what extent is sustainability represented in how you position your brand? Is it an "oh by the way" or a key pillar of your messaging? Or is it inseparable from your corporate brand position?
  • Customer Journey: Can your customers experience you as a sustainable brand? How is sustainability integrated into all the ways a customer interacts with you? How many sustainable products and services do they associate with your company?
  • Marketing and Messaging: How covert or overt is your sustainability message? Do customers have to dig deep in your website to find an official statement or report, or are you publicly trumpeting your credible contributions and initiatives?
  • Last but not least, Operational Integrity: Are you greenwashing or walking your talk? We can dive very deep here with our partner The FairRidge Group, who was the inspiration of the 5 Stages and offers extensive audit capabilities with their Sustainability Management Maturity Model (SM3).

At Fruitful Strategy, The Five Stages provide context for all of our research reports and workshops. We believe that customer segmentation or behavioral analysis can be rather useless unless it's applied and relevant to what you are trying to accomplish with your brand. And we're realists, not idealists. The "right" answer for you might be to stay in a middle stage like Emergent to not alienate your current customer base, or launch a new sustainable product or service brand to take advantage of a market opportunity.

We're looking forward to helping build a new generation of sustainable brands... those who aren't hanging back, but charging forward and staking territory within the New Green Economy. Those who are actively driving awareness of sustainable issues in their category, and creating demand instead of waiting for it.

Learn more about The Five Stages

Talk to us about a customized workshop or report for your brand by calling 415.563.5669 or emailing us at