Earlier this month saw the announcement of this years Brands With a Conscience Awards (BWAC) by the Medinge group of which I am a member. The Medinge Group is an international think-tank on branding and business. In the Group’s opinion, these diverse organizations show that it is possible for brands to succeed as they contribute to the betterment of society by sustainable, socially responsible and humanistic behaviour.

The international collective of brand practitioners meets annually in August at a secluded location outside Stockholm, Sweden, and collaborate on the list, judging nominees on principles of humanity and ethics, rather than financial worth. The Brands with a Conscience list is shaped around criteria including evidence of the human implications of the brand and considering whether the brand takes risks in line with its beliefs. Evaluations are made based on reputation, self-representation, history, direct experience, contacts with individuals within the organizations, media and analysts and an assessment of the expressed values of sustainability.
Two years ago the group added a unique category commendation, the Colin Morley Award, recognizing exceptional achievement by an NGO. Mr Morley, a member of the Medinge Group, died in the London Underground bombings on July 7, 2005. The award commemorates his visionary work in humanistic branding.

For 2009, the group has singled out the following organizations as Brands with a Conscience:
Chhatra Sagar—an eco-resort in Rajasthan (India)
Ekomarine—environmentally responsible paint (Sweden)
Kiva—microfinance lending (USA)
One Water—enlightened bottled water (UK)
Ragbag—Fair-Traded fashion accessories from recyclable materials (the Netherlands)
TOMS shoes—developing nations’ shoe distribution (USA)

2009 Colin Morley Award
The third Colin Morley Award for a non-governmental organization is given to the American actor and philanthropist Paul Newman in posthumous recognition for an exemplary life of truth-telling and generosity.

Early next month, on February 5th, the BWAC Awards will be given to the mentioned organisations, at a private ceremony at the Management Institute of Paris.
This years list of nominees was excellent, with nominations that represented a wider spectrum of geographic origin as well as a wider range of products and services. This made choosing and voting a bigger, but more worthwile, task than before.

As I was last year, I am very pleased to spread the word on the brands we have selected this year. Ever since I joined the Medinge initiative, now 6 years ago, I have enjoyed the discussion and energy in this world wide group of people. It thoroughly changed my outlook on the role of branding, from a mere marketing perspective, to how a brand can be the focal point of energy for everything I think is crucial in true collaboration within organisations, and stakeholder networks. For me knowledge and change management and branding overlap greatly. Acknowledging those organisations for whom their brand is the expression of how they see themselves as part of society, where the bottom-line is not the only and unique yard stick to measure success, seems therefore a logical extension of my vision on knowledge work, innovation and learning in a globally networked world.


Members of the Medinge Group at last years Paris meeting

Next to this years list of Brands with a Conscience the Medinge Group also added a unique category commendation. Medinge Group member Colin Morley died in the London Underground bombings of July 2005. He was a visionary worker on human centered branding, and a driving force behind Be The Change. I am honoured he was a participant at the BlogWalk London workshop, part of the series I organize with Lilia Efimova and Sebastian Fiedler. With the Colin Morley Award the Medinge Group commemorates his visionary contributions and his ideals. I was very much moved by the way his family graciously granted the Medinge Groups wish to name the NGO award after him.

The 2007 Colin Morley Award for Excellence by an NGO goes to:

Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare’s Globe is an educational charity whose founding purpose is dedicated to the study of Shakespeare in performance. Aspects of interpretation and the attainment of personal relevance are central to its activities. At its home on London’s Bankside, the Globe manifests its purpose in three main operational areas: Theatre, Education and Exhibition. The theatre space itself is the most celebrated and architecturally sensitive Elizabethan re-construction in existence; an inextricable linkage to London past and present. The Globe functions without Arts Council funding, thus, it is a business model for the arts. It explores the humanity of Shakespeare – himself a timeless commentator of the human condition – on the only site that can ever be the home of his performances. A genuine concept, it is wholly inclusive in how it tries to involve the world (e.g. Zulu Macbeth, a touring Tent for Peace made from love-or peace-themed Ophelia handkerchiefs) – perhaps the UK’s most underutilised, but potentially potent brand.

Since its inception in 2002, I have been been involved in the Medinge Group, a world wide thinktank and international collective of brand practitioners. Although I am not directly involved in branding, I do think that a brand should be a very important container for those values and attitudes that play key roles in a company’s knowledge work, innovation, learning, and adaptability as well as social responsibility. The founders of the Medinge Group are looking for that same qualities in a brand, and shape their branding work accordingly. A natural fit therefore with my work and thoughts on the social and business models needed in this era of knowledge and information abundance.

When in 2003 the Medinge Group collectively authored the book Beyond Branding, I took part in the discussions and reviewing, from a knowledge management perspective. Since 2004 I have been less involved with the Medinge Group, following the mailing list more from the sideline but remaining part of the Beyond Branding blog, where my posts are aggregated as well.

In 2004 the Medinge Group published for the first time a list of brands that the group thinks show that it is possible for brands to succeed as they contribute to the betterment of the society by sustainable, socially responsible and humanistic behavior. Judging nominees takes place on principles of humanity and ethics, rather than financial worth. The Brands with a Conscience list is evaluated on criteria including evidence of the human implications of the brand and considering the question of whether the brand takes risks in line with its beliefs. Evaluations are made based on reputation, self-representation, history, direct experience, contacts with individuals within the organizations, media and analysts and an assessment of the expressed values of sustainability.

The Brands with a Conscience 2007 list has been voted on last November and announced just before Christmas 2006. Also for the first time this year a special award has been given to a NGO, which I will reserve for a seperate blogpost. This years list includes:

Adnams
A local brewer in Suffolk, England, Adnams is recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, and regularly features in the UK list of top 50 places to work. In October, 2006, they unveiled the UK’s greenest warehouse, the first commercial building built from sustainable hemp blocks, with the UK’s largest sedum roof, drawing 80% of its hot water needs from solar panels. An energy efficient brewhouse is slated for completion in March ‘07. Adnams has been brewing in Suffolk since 1872, today employs 280, has a charity arm, and focuses on sustainability because it wants to.

Ecover
Ecover is the world’s largest producer of ecological detergents and cleansing products, a pioneering, innovative company founded in 1980 in Belgium. Their progressive environmental and social policy is at the heart of their business success. In their vision statement they say: “Ecover is a company that strives to optimise economic value. We regard the environment as an inseparable part of the economy… job performance as a means to foster the social wellbeing and personal development of its direct and indirect employees.” The Medinge Group also recognizes Ecover’s visual identity which combines a strong brand mark with appropriate environmental signals like transparent packaging.

Fetzer Vineyards
The sixth-largest seller of prize-winning premium wines in the US — and the largest grower of organic grapes in Northern California, committed to going all-organic by 2010. Fetzer uses nothing but renewable power and water treated without chlorine; has reduced its waste by 94% since 1990; earns Salmon-Safe and Fish-Friendly certificates for its vineyard practices; is a charter member of Climate Leaders, an industry-government partnership; and has helped influence its parent company, Brown-Forman, towards sustainable business practices.

Freeplay
An established South Africa-based sustainability business whose products have wide-reaching positive ramifications. Freeplay’s vanguard appliance solutions for portable energy enable rural communities to deploy otherwise inaccessible basic technologies.

IKEA
Highly ambitious and detailed work is being done by this huge concern with some 150 retail stores around the globe. Especially interesting is IKEA’s firm stance against corruption, perhaps the most serious obstacle for a better world in developing countries. In Russia an invited group of 350 VIPs including the Swedish ambassador returned home after IKEA refused to pay bribes to the local government needed to obtain the permit to open a new Moscow store, an incident later reported in the Financial Times. The Medinge Group further acknowledges IKEA’s extensive programs for ecology and social responsibility.

RED
A brand which demonstrates the power of collective action and a simple idea that everyone can get. It’s a business model (not a charity) that works for both people and business, and for the image of ubiquitous founder Bono. As their manifesto says: “If you buy a RED product or service, at no cost to you a RED company will give some of its profit to buy and distribute anti-retroviral medicine to people dying of AIDS in Africa.” A modern, inclusive brand, RED has a distinctive and attractive identity that is shared by like-minded brands. It’s a brand that partners personalise and promote on their own sites. And it is a brand where you can easily see the results of your actions. As MySpace, one its sponsors says, ‘Collectively, we can do good in a big way’.

Virgin Group/Virgin Fuels
On 10 September 2006, Virgin Group announced that they will apportion 100% of all of their transport related profits over the next three years into a new enterprise called Virgin Fuels. This equates to approximately $400m in renewable initiatives over three years. Virgin Group and Richard Branson have the brand strength, voice and financial muscle to make a massive difference in this high polluting and otherwise lethargic sector. Virgin Group and its companies already have an enormously healthy and well-recognised position as an innovative, exciting employer with a humane focus on its staff and customers. Virgin Fuels has taken a thought-leading position that only a handful of organisations can occupy.

Whole Foods
Among its many laudable initiatives, the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods recently committed to ongoing contractual relationships with local farmers to help supply each of its stores, thus truly supporting sustainable (and energy/transport-efficient) agriculture.

(Descriptions of this years Brands with a Conscience taken from the Medinge Group statement of Dec. 21st 2006.)

Last Friday I attended a roundtable of some 20 people in Amsterdam on “Open Branding”. Now I don’t know the first thing about branding, apart from being a consumer that is, but nonetheless it was a great day. The people behind the meeting call themselves Chief Brand Officers Association, or CBO, and envision honest brands (hence ‘open branding’) as the only way to go for organisations in the 21st century.
The issues they address are things like trust, authenticity, leadership, value, transparancy, knowledge sharing, communication and the like. A familiar line up, for me, and I hope indeed for most KM-people. So their agenda closely resembled mine, and hopefully I could add to their discussions from my KM background usefully.
Later this year, a co-authored book by the CBO-group is to appear at Kogan Page, aiming to place Open Branding on the agenda’s of CxO’s around the world. Part of the discussion focussed on who to reach with the book, and how to do that.
As with KM, translating a vision to the workplace will only be succesful if you can list the concrete issues and needs it will help address. You can’t convince someone to do KM, if there’s no identified need to deal with. So the risk of developing an answer in search for a problem is something to watch out for, especially with such a bookproject.
This inspiring get-together of branding experts will certainly be followed up with extensive e-mail discussions. Meanwhile webspaces to watch in relation to this are:

  • Chris Macrae at Valuetrue, and at the Emotional Intelligence SIG at KnowledgeBoard for his work on value indicators outside the traditional monetary and accounting ones.
  • John Caswell, for his contextual mapping methods, at GroupPartners.net
  • John Moore, on trust and authenticity, both at the Trust SIG on KnowledgeBoard and his own website of Ourhouse.