Winners vs Losers: How to Build a Sustainable Brand

Building a brand is difficult. Making that brand sustainable yet profitable is near impossible. 

Learn from the best and avoid the worst in this Winners vs Losers sustainable brand showcase.

Winner: IKEA

Strategy: Work with Ethical Partners

IKEA commiserates with customers in this purposefully botched assembly.

IKEA’s goal is to reward partner businesses that practise great ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance). They achieve this through IWAY, their supplier code of conduct. 

IKEA forces suppliers to adhere to ESG goals set out in IWAY. The programme has been in use for over twenty years and is continually improved.

IWAY 6 is the newest version and it assess the following:

  • Core worker rights
  • Safety of the working place
  • Life-work balance of employees
  • Water and waste management of potential suppliers
  • Prevention of child labour

Challenge your suppliers. Being eco-friendly isn’t a burden you should place solely on yourself.

Loser: Nike

Strategy: Eco Product Line

Nike’s ‘Considered’ boot.

“Nike has always been about winning. How is sustainability relevant to its brand?” (Dean Crutchfield, marketing consultant.) 

Nike realised this after a disastrous product launch of an eco shoes line in 2005 named ‘Considered’. A $110 boot made from brown hemp fibres was called “Air Hobbits” by critics for their earthy feel that was a stark divergence from Nike’s sports-driven design language. 

The boots were discontinued less than a year after launch.

Don’t be green for the sake of it. Your efforts need to be consistent with your brand and customer’s desires.

Winner: Airbus

Strategy: Manufacture Planes with 3D Printing

Despite its lofty sustainability goals, Airbus manufactures private jets. Still, it gets a lot right.

Airbus is the second largest plane manufacturer in the world after Boeing. Airbus works with Materialise, a Belgian additive manufacturing business, to 3D-print their planes. 

3D printing plane parts has numerous advantages:

  • It reduces manufacturing time for parts versus using moulds
  • It saves costs by using less materials and taking less manufacturing space and time
  • It reduces the weight of parts by 45%, reducing the weight of planes so they can burn less fuel 

Airbus claims 3D printing of plane parts reduces an A320 plane’s greenhouse gas emissions by 465,000 metric tons. This is equal to removing 100,000 cars from the road for a year.

Be creative. Use burgeoning technologies and practises to bolster your ESG efforts.

Loser: McDonald’s

Strategy: Replace Plastic Straws with Paper

McDonald’s is a master marketer. Even if it is a loser on this list.

McDonald’s replaced plastic straws with paper ones in the UK and Ireland. McDonald’s uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK alone.

However, the paper straws could not be recycled, unlike their plastic forefathers. Additionally, the paper straws weaken with use making some customers use several straws where one plastic straw would do.

McDonald’s should use coffee-cup-style lids on soft drinks, thus eliminating the need for straws all together. 

Don’t sacrifice trees for the ocean. Take a holistic approach to your strategies and ensure you are not harming customer experience.

Winner: Lyft

Strategy: Climate Change Mitigation

Lyft rideshare.

Lyft is the world’s second largest taxi app company after Uber, with a revenue of $4.04 billion in 2023. Their 2025 climate impact goals aim to use self-driving electric vehicles, all powered by renewable energy.

Lyft’s aims to be carbon neutral by funding climate change mitigation efforts, such as:

  • reduction of emissions in car manufacturing
  • renewable energy programs
  • forestry projects
  • capture of emissions from landfills. 

Until 2019, Lyft spent $2 million on these programs, cancelling out 2,062,500 metric tons of carbon which is more than their entire carbon footprint.

Engaging in climate change mitigation is great for your public perception which increases your customer retention and acquisition.

Loser: Volkswagen

Strategy: Lie About Climate Impact

VW Dieselgate.

From 2009 to 2015, Volkswagen’s emissions scandal saw 11 million diesel vehicles fail an EPA investigation. Devices installed in the vehicles tricked emissions tests resulting in the  vehicles emitting nitrogen oxides 40 times above the legal limit.

When reported, Volkswagen’s stock plummeted, executives resigned, and the company faced billions in fines and penalties, totalling $33.3 billion.

Do not lie to consumers. Not only will you potentially face legal ramifications, consumer trust in your brand will plummet.

Winner: Patagonia

Strategy: Reduce Sales to Increase Sales (Yes, that is a paradox)

The Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate, wearing Patagonia.

Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, created the outdoor clothing brand with the environment in mind.

Patagonia’s Common Threads Recycling Program recycled 45 tons of clothes into 34 tons of new clothes. Patagonia has a free clothing repair scheme to extend the life cycle of their clothes.

Their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign was a roaring success. Despite concerns from critics that the campaign would reduce sales, sales increased by 30% to $540 million.

Don’t greenwash. Have real, authentic messaging and initiatives that truly impact your customers and they’ll beat down your door with enthusiasm. 

Loser: Burberry

Strategy: Firesale

Emma Watson Burberry shoot.

Burberry burned unsold clothes, accessories and perfume worth £28.6 million in 2017 to protect its brand. 

Their aim was to maintain brand exclusivity and scarcity. The total value of goods it destroyed from 2012 to 2017 was more than £90 million

“Burberry has careful processes in place to minimise the amount of excess stock we produce. On the occasions when disposal of products is necessary, we do so in a responsible manner and we continue to seek ways to reduce and revalue our waste,” a spokesperson for the company said.

Do not sacrifice your ethics to plump up your bottom line. 

Winner: Danone

Strategy: Transparency

Evian is Danone’s bottled water brand.

Danone is a world leader in the food industry which is notorious for single-use plastics. Danone has taken great strides to combat this: 

  • 87% of Danone’s packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable
  • 100% of Danone’s water bottles such as Evian are recyclable
  • All Danone bottles are made from 100% bioplastic.

We can learn from Danone’s transparency in every aspect of their supply chain. This commitment to honesty, the environment and ethics is paramount to building consumer trust. 

Take every opportunity to show customers they can trust you. 


Nothing hurts like failure. Who was the biggest winner and loser? Comment below.

We analyse winners and losers everyday. Give us a call to discuss your brand.

Leave a Comment