Ethics in branding

How to make your brand stand for something

People are changing the way they shop.

Purchasing a product is no longer just about whether it will taste nice or look good on the coffee table. In the current climate, more and more people are asking vital questions like “what impact does this product have on the environment?” “Where were these materials sourced?” “Are the ingredients organic?” “What are the working conditions like for the employees at this company?”.
Markus Spiske Z56L143Kbve UnsplashMarkus Spiske Z56L143Kbve Unsplash
A business’ success has become tied to its purpose, values and mission and as a result, ethical branding is increasingly important. As new entrepreneurs emerge many are focused on making the world a better place rather than making as much profit for themselves as possible.

That doesn’t mean that business owners are losing out. Putting values and ethics above all else doesn’t have to mean less profit. In this day and age speaking openly about values and conducting business in an ethical way attracts customers who share the same beliefs. It makes people feel like they are contributing to something bigger during their weekly shop.
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 09
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 01
There are also a number of ways to frame your mission so there can be benefits for both the business, the cause and the customer. One example of this is a company that we work with here at Studio Unbound. Karma Tea is a tea company that supports south-asian tea pickers by paying them a more fair wage for their products by dealing directly with the gardens instead of a co-op.

This is a great story but will it sell more tea? The answer is probably not. It might get someone to buy it once but not become a loyal customer. We needed to find a way of weaving this story in as a benefit for the consumer. The idea of dealing directly from the gardens means fresher tea as it won't be sitting in a warehouse. It also means provenance - knowing exactly where that tea was grown and produced. That is reflected in the branding - using the stamp like the tea pickers have bagged it up, put a stamp on it and sent it to you directly.

What is an ethical brand?

An ethical brand is a brand that places moral principles and values above all else. At worst, it is a brand that implements strategies which don’t harm anyone. At best an ethical brand is one that actively contributes to society and makes it a better place.

How to bring ethics in branding

Choose a cause

What is your purpose? You need to be clear on exactly why your business is committed to whichever cause you choose. If you are donating to charities make sure you research all your options thoroughly so you can be sure your money is going exactly where it needs to. If you want to offer a service to the community make sure that what you do is thoroughly researched so that you don’t end up accidentally doing more harm than good.
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 02
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 03
Be authentic

It isn’t enough to just pick a cause. You need to be authentic in your choice. The cause should mean something for the business. It needs to be relevant. If you are a cosmetics brand and you donate money to a cat rescue center it will not make any sense for the customer or for you.

Some of the brands we work with are really good examples of what it means to create authentic connection with charities. Jam Packed supports British insect wildlife by donating to conservation charities. The reason behind this is most of their products are made with local British Fruit and Veg. So by supporting the insects that benefit the growth of these ingredients, they make their company more sustainable and also protect the resources that they need for their business to flourish. The British insects are now a key part of their story and are hero-ed on their packaging.
Mission statement

Once you have chosen a relevant cause, it’s time to double down on a direction. This is the foundation of your ethical branding plan.

How exactly does your brand plan on making a difference? This mission statement will be the driving force behind all of the actions of the brand. It’s there to remind you, your employees and your customers of the values attached to your brand. It should be a guideline for any future decisions you make.
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 05
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 06
Lead by example

You have to practice what you preach. It’s absolutely no good being a fossil fuel or fracking company and telling the general public to walk to work every day to save the environment…

You must lead by example and your ethical branding should reflect this. The actual products or services that you are providing should also be in alignment with your values. If you say you’re an equal opportunities employer you should have specific policies in place to ensure that actually happens. If you claim to be eco friendly then the way the business operates should also take this into consideration. If you want to know more about how to make your business a little greener you can read about it here. (link to green switches post)

Use your profile and following to spread the message. Share news about advances in your sector, about things your customers can do to make a difference for themselves and about what other businesses can also be doing to make a difference. You can also share your ideas with customers on social media.

Make sure that you get the tone right when creating educational content. Sometimes brands can come across as being a little too preachy and this can be frustrating for followers. It is best to be gentle and compassionate. Anything too authoritative can make followers feel attacked, misunderstood or lectured at. It’s best to suggest rather than insist and to make sure you are honest about the struggles your own brand has. Nobody is perfect as Hannah Montana would have said back in the day and admitting this fact makes your brand seem a little more relatable.
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 07
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 08
Consider a different business structure

There are a number of ways you can make a difference as a business. If you care about people and the planet then this can be reflected beyond just the products you create, it can be evident in the business itself and your ethical branding.

How can you make your business better for your employees? Structures like employee owned businesses or different work schedules like the 4-day work week can make a huge difference to the lives of employees. Or simply paying employees an actual liveable wage.

If your brand’s goals are socially oriented instead of profit oriented then you could consider looking into social entrepreneurship or applying to become a B Corp. There is a lot of support out there for those who are trying to make a difference through business.


We are approaching an era where every brand will claim that they stand for something. The truth is, a lot of these claims aren’t founded on solid policy or measurable action. A sweet company can change their name to make them seem more woke or plaster a rainbow on their packaging during pride month and not have to commit to contributing to these causes in any way. For many, these attempts seem shallow and inauthentic.

People see right through these empty gestures. To stand out, you really need one thing that a lot of these other businesses don’t have: Authenticity.
Branding Ethical Sustainability Packaging 10