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How legacy brands are adapting to a more sustainable world

Mobile phone shows a green forest emerging on top of the screen.

Illustration by Sarah Kim / Getty / The Current

This Earth Day, brands across the world are evolving their sustainability practices to cater to climate-conscious consumers, protect our wilting planet, and continue producing at scale.

While many of today’s new brands launch with sustainability causes built in, legacy brands and companies like 153-year-old Campbell Soup Company, Diageo (which houses 263-year-old Guinness and 158-year-old Smirnoff), and 184-year-old P&G are developing their own initiatives to offer consumers more sustainable choices, either by revamping their own supply chains, launching sustainable brands, or partnering with sustainable-focused companies.

Campbell, for instance, is on a mission to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, transition to renewable energy, improve sourcing and manufacturing to reduce environmental impact, support sustainable agriculture and animal welfare, and reduce food and water waste, Linda Lee, chief marketing officer for Campbell’s Meals and Deals division, tells The Current. The company recently announced science-based targets to reduce greenhouse emissions as part of its overall environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy. Science-based targets provide a clearly -defined pathway for companies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, helping to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and to future-proof business growth, Lee says.

“Our company’s purpose is ‘Connecting people through food they love,’ and sustainability is a fundamental part of that promise,” says Lee. “Providing food that people can trust, strengthening our communities, building a workplace where all employees are empowered to thrive, and working toward a healthier environment — these are must-haves if you want to sustain growth at scale, operationally and with consumers.”

Brands like Campbell’s are helping lead in a world where consumers are demanding change. Globally, an enormous 85 percent of consumers say they have shifted their purchase behavior in the past five years toward greater sustainability, with 60 percent rating sustainability as an important purchase consideration, according to the July 2021 Global Sustainability Study conducted by consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners, which surveyed more than 10,000 people in 17 countries. A third (34 percent) say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products, with younger consumers especially leading this charge.

Diageo’s Bulleit whiskey brand — one of the youngest in its portfolio, with its launch in 1987 — is the first Diageo brand being produced at the company’s first carbon- neutral production facility, Lebanon Distillery in Kentucky. During production of its whiskey, Bulleit is committed to reducing carbon emissions, conserving water, and reducing waste. In partnership with nonprofit American Forests, the brand has also reached its goal to plant 1 million trees, and the company offers a $25,000 grant to support Kentucky State University students who are studying sustainability practices. Overall, Diageo has sustainability goals to achieve net- zero carbon emissions and use 30 percent less water in its drinks by 2030, among other efforts.

“These days, consumers are demanding more from brands when it comes to operating responsibly and providing transparency, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t sit up and take notice,” says Sophie Kelly, senior VP at North American Whiskies.

Meanwhile, major companies looking to improve their sustainability efforts, are partnering with organizations and brands like New Jersey-based recycling company TerraCycle to help achieve their goals. TerraCycle works with brands such as P&G, Walmart, Kroger, and Walgreens, to collect non-recyclable waste and turn it into raw material they can use for their products. It also pairs companies with specific sustainability solutions, such as Loop, which creates reusable packaging on behalf of largely CPG brands.

“Brands are feeling the pressure to offer more products that are sustainable, as a lot of them are losing market share toward smaller, more sustainable brands selling similar products,” says Marc Violo, VP of marketing and platforms at Loop Global.