Brands are incredibly complex. They are not about marketing. Great brands are about action. I think all of us marketers can agree with this sentiment from Owen Rogers, a senior executive at international design firm, IDEO. Here are the five essential attributes for sustainable brands from his presentation at the ’09 Sustainable Brands conference.

1. Brands Thrive on Passion

He asks, “Do you remember where you were when Obama did his inauguration speech and how it made you feel?” Obama became a brand overnight because of his action. It’s about excitement, drive, emotion, connection and relationships. It’s about the things we feel. As marketers, it’s what we need to tap into, but is difficult to quantify. “Infectious” is another way to view the passion surrounding a brand. Is your brand infectious?

2. Brands Have Many Voices

He uses Comcast as an example. They are a classic technology infrastructure brand. All they used to talk about was their technology, bundled services and and price. Typical behavior for a commodity. But here is how they repackaged and repositioned their technology into emotions their customers can relate to and buy, and at a more expensive price than the commodity players.

3. Brands Create a Point of View and Express it Honestly

Who would you rather be next to a dinner party; a wallflower or a conversationalist? Target is a great example of a brand that has a point of view. They are consistent and loud, even if not everyone is on board with their point of view. Sustainability is a point of view that is ripe for the taking if companies would look at it as something more than just their CSR efforts. To own it – and few have done a great job at it – means creating something that is real.

4. Brands Are About Participation

Companies understand the value of bringing consumers into the conversation, but few brands do a good job of actually engaging the customer in participation. They’re still learning how to engage. There is an interesting study about the power struggle on Wikipedia that demonstrates consumer participation perhaps better than most, because you can see and measure the participation real time.

5. Brands Never Stop Evolving
No one likes change, but it’s such a positive attribute for a brand to have. It speaks of innovation, conversation, movement, learning, and many more positive attributes. It keeps you thinking about the possibilities of what you can be. IBM is a great example. They started with punch cards, then to copiers, then to increasing your business efficiency, and now to creating a “Smarter Planet.”

Can Sustainability Be Thought of as a Brand?

Branding sustainability is about what you do, and not about what you say. Here are five examples of companies that demonstrate their actions with sustainability as a brand attribute.

Sustainability Thrives on Passion = Starbucks: Through its “Shared Planet” initiative

Sustainability Has Many Voices = Honda Insight: While Prius sells it’s miles-per-gallon benefit, the Insight captures the emotion of being green in this spot.

Sustainability Has A Point of View and Expresses it Honestly = Muji Rushi: They sell by showing consumers all of the things they don’t need.

Sustainability is about Participation = Patagonia: The original tin shed where this outdoor retailer got its start is home to one of the most engaging sites on the web.

Sustainability Never Stops Evolving = Nike: The shoemaker began making Jordan 23’s 23 years ago, and have evolved the product line to demonstrate its sustainable manufacturing.

“Sustainable brands sing when they are delivered with passion, speak to their customers in an appropriate voice, when they embrace true participation, and they never stop evolving. If you think of sustainability as a brand, it will free you up to new possibilities.’