Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Impact of Sustainability on Brand Equity

Over the last 12 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege of meeting inspiring marketing, branding, customer experience, leadership, and social media experts. One of these experts is John Friedman, a corporate responsibility and communications expert based in the Washington, DC/Baltimore area. We met on a TweetChat on Twitter, #WFFchat, and recently had a discussion about John's areas of expertise. Highlights follow a brief introduction.

John Friedman is an award-winning communications professional and recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience as both an external and internal corporate responsibility leader, helping companies by integrating their environmental, social, and economic aspirations into their cultures and business practices. Connect and follow on Twitter (@johnfriedman), LinkedIn (, and on Triple Pundit at

QUESTION: On Twitter, you describe yourself as "global #ESG #sustainability #CSR - helping companies live their values and engage." Can you please explain?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: The first part is more of the traditional ‘job description,’ but the second half gets to the concept ‘what you make is not what you do.’ By focusing on how what I do is beneficial to companies or people, it offers a value proposition. It is a short way of saying that I not only implement programs that reflect an organization’s values, but I also help them authentically communicate with, and listen to, their stakeholders.

QUESTION: You wrote a book entitled, “Managing Sustainability: First Steps to First Class." Can you provide a 64,000-foot view of the book's highlights? (Check out the book here:

JOHN FRIEDMAN: I have been working in sustainability or corporate responsibility for more than two decades now. When I was asked to put together this book, I based it on my writings but also my lectures and college and university business schools – trying to distill the evolution of the profession, the lessons learned and where I see the profession going in the next decade or more. What’s been gratifying, both when I speak to people, but also the reaction to the book, is how it seems to be resonating with the next generation of business leaders.

QUESTION: Where do you see sustainability going?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: With some notable exceptions, many companies are still following the outdated business model that the only purpose of business is to maximize profits and shareholder value without recognizing that beyond simply providing goods or services, businesses maximize value by empowering and engaging employees, maintaining positive relationships with customers, communities and suppliers, etc. Those relationships are maximized by effective sustainability programs that focus on protecting the environment, advancing social justice and sound governance.

TWEET THIS: Businesses maximize value by maintaining positive relationships with customers, communities, and suppliers. ~@JohnFriedman #CSR #ESG #BrandExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog 

QUESTION: I worked in France, so I was intrigued by one of your past job experiences as Director of Corporate Responsibility Communications for Sodexo Group in Paris, France. What were some of the professional challenges you encountered working in Europe, specifically Paris and France, and for an international brand?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Working in France, and Paris, is doubtless a highlight of my career. While I did my best to improve my French language skills, learning the culture was even more important. The way that things are done, how decisions are made, the process sometimes being as important – or more important – than the outcome. I did my best to spend longer periods of time in Paris, rather than short, transactional trips, and used the weekends and evenings to immerse myself in the culture. But the biggest challenge for me was the fact that I was the only remote employee on my team (mostly in the US) and that meant I missed a lot of the informal interactions and conversations.

However, being a part-time resident, rather than a tourist, gave me the opportunity to experience Paris the place, not just the destination. I was lucky enough to find some of the places the locals go, from restaurants, parks, music halls, and art installations. And I really got to know some people quite well, who remain friends to this day.

QUESTION: What is some "dating advice" that you'd offer for brands that want to be loved?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Here is my advice:
(1) Be yourself and remain true to your values. Don’t try to be something you’re not, in order to impress people. It won’t work.
(2) Recognize that you cannot get everyone to love you all the time. Focus on those stakeholders that are really stakeholders – that is, those who have a stake in your success. That always has to start with your employees, and what matters to them. After all, they are the ones who carry your brand reputation every time they interact with a customer, supplier, member of the community, you name it.
(3) Do not try too hard. Just like personal relationships, professional relationships can suffer from desperation.
(4) Money can’t buy love, or respect. You cannot donate your way into peoples’ hearts. You have to run the business in a manner that is attractive to people.
(5) And lastly, practice self-love. Know what values make your organization special and focus on instilling those values throughout the organization, from HR to sales to procurement and management. Being comfortable in your own skin is the most attractive trait of all.

QUESTION: What are your favorite brands?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: I don’t really have “favorite brands” per se. And I get tired of hearing the same names - Unilever, Patagonia - all the time. There are thousands of organizations that do great work and are never (or rarely) mentioned. For example, I have been working with one company, InstallNET, that helps companies reconfigure offices and keeps old furniture and equipment out of landfills whether through donations to local charities or reselling or other reuse. I like them because it’s their entire business model, not something they offer “on the side.” That’s true integrated sustainability.

My thanks to John for appearing here on my Blog and for sharing his thoughts about sustainability and its impact on brand equity.

Image Credit: WordSwag.

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