Sustainability Is Also a Brand Imperative

By Peter Matthews of Nucleus 

Sustainability. ‘The ability to exist and develop without depleting natural resources, incorporating environmental, social and economic considerations’. This is how the United Nations summarises sustainability, forming the basis of legislation, and, increasingly, driving consumer choice.

Successful brands are driven by values and purpose, so those that place sustainability at the core of their enterprise can expect consumers to respond positively, but also be accountable for the claims they make.

Defining sustainability for a transport brand means going beyond reducing harm to the environment, to creating positive environmental, economic and social value. These three dimensions of sustainability are what brands in the next economy will be judged on.

Peter Matthews, of Nucleus.

And just how many mobility brands actually deliver on this? Are they able to prove they are climate safe, regenerative and socially just? Throughout their entire product lifecycle?

Until now too many organisations in many sectors of the economy appear to focus on just one of the above-mentioned dimensions, and some continue to make claims they can’t really justify.

According to the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) the recent surge in demand for green products and services – in 2019 UK consumers spent £41 billion on ethical goods and services – may be giving rise to some businesses making misleading, vague or even false claims about the sustainability or environmental impact of their products. Following a public consultation, the CMA has recommended a number of actions for the UK government to consider, including introducing legislative definitions for potentially misleading terms like “recyclable” and “carbon neutral”.

We are fast approaching a tipping point where greenwashing is being seen for what it is, because it causes confusion and sows discord around the best options for shifting the dial on the likes of Climate Change. Ultimately, it will damage the brands that chase short-term gain.

Businesses across the board need clarity and transparency in their branding, and ensure brand promises are kept. Those that live up to their claims have a unique opportunity to contribute to sustainability by creating the ‘next economy’.

One such example is global leader in transport and technology, Hitachi Rail, whose mission to achieve NetZero across its value chain by 2050 is founded on helping cities and transportation operators shift people away from cars and towards lower carbon transportation by making public transport more seamless and convenient for passengers.

This “modal shift” is the first pillar of Hitachi Rail’s decarbonisation strategy, alongside reducing emissions throughout its own value chain (including factories, supply chain and its products and services), and the decarbonisation of rail through batteries and electrification.

Case Study – Hitachi Rail

As digital brand designers our role is to create new brands that will accelerate consumer adoption of the most sustainable practices and, earlier this year, we were delighted to be appointed by Hitachi Rail to define a new brand strategy and naming architecture for its suite of digital mobility services.

Lumada Intelligent Mobility Management is the suite that brings together Hitachi’s holistic vision for smarter mobility across three key areas: smart ticketing, mobility management and electrified mobility solutions, all managed through a real-time mobility platform – designed to help transport authorities, transport operators and passengers shift to more seamless and sustainable transportation.

Within that suite are a set of distinct offers for passengers, cities and operators.

Our starting point was to understand how mobility data is accelerating change, enabling transport networks and operators to improve transport economics, passengers’ quality of life and reduce congestion and pollution, while meeting de-carbonisation targets.

We identified a value proposition based on a 360º vision that will ultimately benefit society through the achievement of net zero goals. ‘360’ became the brand concept around which we created a series of numeronym brand names under the Lumada Intelligent Mobility Management suite banner.

Until now, Hitachi Rail’s target audience has been transport operators and municipalities, but the new passenger app creates a direct connection with the travelling public, so the brand naming and identity had to be designed to connect with consumers, too.

Our solution is a scalable architecture that can grow over time, with the first two product launches building on the 360 naming concept:

360Motion is the real-time mobility platform that provides operators with integrated analytics across multiple transport networks to deliver value added insights;

360Pass groups all Hitachi’s smart ticketing solutions, including an innovative hands-free smart ticketing app that allows you to travel across multi-modal transport systems without barriers, or any need to tap-in and tap-off; with additional roll-outs scheduled for later this year.

Having conceived the ‘360’ brand concept, we then managed the trade mark application process and designed the brand system, using ‘circularity’ as the visual concept. This features a precisely calibrated bezel around the numeric mark, which is contained in a roundel.

The brand is brought to life using animation, where appropriate, such as app splash screens.

The 360Pass smart ticketing app and 360Motion platform  were launched in Genoa, Italy in July 2022

Working with Hitachi confirmed our belief that we are entering an era where sustainability needs to become an implicit attribute of every new product or service. 

As organisations finally accelerate their journey to sustainability, and consumers’ understanding of what makes something sustainable follows, new brands will emerge. Branding these products and services will evolve, too. Instead of over-claiming specific ‘green’ advantages, there will be a point at which the brand cues, such as low energy consumption or zero emissions, will become expected and the brand itself will be sufficient.

For now, the focus has to be on enabling consumers to quickly tell the green from the greenwash and every brand now needs to tell their sustainability story well. Those that are most convincing will be the brands that stand the test of time.

The likes of Hitachi’s revolutionary intelligent mobility suite are poised to help cities and transport operators reduce pollution and congestion and achieve net zero by 2050, but they cannot be conceived purely as B2B brands. Consumer apps, in particular, will mean some of these brands emerge in the hands of passengers as mass mobility becomes a ubiquitous part of our lives.

This is both a risk for mobility brands that don’t communicate well and a huge opportunity for those brands that can carve out a new niche that meshes looking good and being sustainable, as this should be one and the same thing and something all brands should be striving for.