Brands have the ability and the opportunity to enact positive change in the world. Brands have the market share, resources and voice to shift climate policy and accelerate powerful social and environmental progress, and it all starts with the relationship between the brand and the consumer. This is a relationship that goes both ways. More than ever, consumers are choosing brands whose products are better for the planet. The other side of the coin is that brands are guiding more consumers to choose sustainably-made products. Smart brands play three roles in ensuring consumers gravitate toward sustainably-made products: listening to consumer demand, innovating using sustainability as a driver and giving consumers access to affordable and high-quality sustainable goods.

1. Make sure the customer comes first.

The first role of brands is to always listen to consumer demand. It turns out, more and more consumers want sustainably-made goods. In fact, 84 percent of consumers, globally, say they seek out responsible products whenever possible. This is closely tied to what’s called the business case for sustainability: You’ll gain market share if you listen to and respond to consumer demand for more sustainable products.

2. Let sustainability lead the market.

The second role of brands is to use sustainability as a driver for innovation. Consumers will tend to buy what is cool, new and innovative. This is encouraging research and development departments to turn to principles of sustainable design to innovate and produce high-tech, high-quality goods that consumers are flocking to. Innovative products are technologically advanced, colorful and modern, but also happen to be made with circular principles in mind, upcycled, or make use of conscientiously sourced raw materials.

Brands such as Tesla and Impossible Foods have made a name for themselves as the cool kids on the block, with eco-credentials as a shoulder benefit. Apple is known for their technology and innovation advances, but they’re now innovating based on circularity, and working towards closing the supply chain loop.

Cosmetics are a great example of sustainably-made products that can actually work better than traditionally-made products. L'Oréal recently announced one of the most ambitious corporate sustainability strategies in the world — a set of commitments aimed at transforming the ways in which the company innovates and manufactures its products. The quality of innovation that has resulted from this ambitious strategy is nothing short of remarkable. Their Biolage line, for example, is exceeding expectations in quality, efficacy and sustainability credentials. 

3. Pair sustainability and affordability.

The third role of brands is to make these sustainably-made products easy to access — in other words, affordable. This is a challenge, since most high-quality, sustainably-made products are more expensive due to challenges in sourcing sustainable raw materials. However, the good news is that many companies are starting to make sustainability the norm, helping these products become more affordable and accessible to all. WhiteWave Foods is taking the plant-based food industry by storm, with brands like Silk and So Delicious now ubiquitous on the shelves of virtually all supermarkets, shaking up the carbon-intensive dairy industry.

Some brands have accessibility as their main business model. Sam Polk, with his company Everytable, is showcasing the business case for providing healthy, culturally relevant meals to everyone, regardless of income level. The company is thriving, while also doing good for the communities in which they operate. As examples like this show, corporate responsibility now goes beyond product-level sustainability, and it’s increasingly being baked into the brand’s purpose and promise.

The opportunity for brands to enact positive change hinges on these three roles, and brands that are fulfilling them are engaging in the ultimate supply and demand relationship: listening to what the market wants, and supplying a great product. The upside is that it could lead us to a bright future on this planet.