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What's in a brand?



I was struck as I sat and listened to two of the most respected voices on well-being and sustainability by how businesslike they sounded.

The argument for thinking and acting sustainably to them wasn't just that it is the right thing to do; they believe it is crucial if a business or idea is to find success in the long-term.

One's "brand" has to capture the essence of the idea otherwise there is a risk of being left behind by the market or being eclipsed by someone else doing it better.

The story of what you are and how you got there becomes part of the success. Of course, we know this to be a successful formula. Just look at the global success of Ikea and Volvo — two companies speaker Dr. Goran Carstedt spent years leading.

And yet as the world struggles to deal with what feels like a recession — economists can argue amongst themselves if we are meeting all the marker definitions — sustainability and the initiatives that go along with it seem to be the first on the chopping block.

Both Carstedt and his speaking (and skiing) companion Dr. John Holmberg see this as a dangerously shortsighted way to find savings.

But they did not come with a big stick scaring their audience into submission; rather they made reasoned arguments about why businesses must adopt sustainable practices... for the bottom line.

Carstedt pointed to the fact that China, a huge consumer of goods — and the government is pushing for people to buy even more to make up for declining exports and to provide markets for other nations — a huge producer of goods, and huge carbon emitter is publicly talking about climate change. It is after all big business.

China produced 7.71 million tones of CO2 (up 13.3 per cent) according to the latest 2009 figures from the Energy Information Administration — that's more CO2 than the U.S. and Canada put together. And it is expected to triple its CO2 emissions in the next 30 years.

Yet even in China, said Carstedt, change is happening. China became the world's third-largest solar panel market in terms of new installations in 2011, he said. This is being driven by the declining cost of solar power systems and government incentives. And, of course, the technology is being manufactured and exported because the world is demanding it. Change through the bottom-line, so to speak.

Both Holmstead and Carstedt encouraged their audience to think of the world as a spaceship.

"Few people think business as usual is the answer," said Carstedt.

"Sustainability is a business imperative."

In this regard, said Carstedt, Whistler is seen as a world leader. "But now you are being tested because times are getting tougher."

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