Branding Sustainability: Opportunity and risk behind a brand-based approach to sustainable markets

Matthias Lehner, Sue Vaux Halliday

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this article we discuss the role of brands in the creation of sustainable markets. We focus on the increasing importance of ethical branding and how it might help to overcome some institutional shortcomings inherent in current market settings. We also discuss the increasing influence of brand communities and the seeming potential for a ‘democratisation’ of brand value and values. Brands are in this article described as one practical and effective way forward to develop the market for sustainable products further. We illustrate this from examples of food retailing, showing how companies have already
started to follow this logic. At the same time this article raises doubts over the long-term effectiveness of a (purely) brand-focused approach to sustainable market exchange. On the one hand we claim that brands have proven receptive to public top-down (i.e. policy makers) and bottom-up (i.e. social movements) pressure. For intensive public scrutiny has resulted in markets developing in line with public interests. Yet, on the other hand, we raise concerns over brands’ increasing dominance. Dominance, that is, over the exchange process of sustainable products and services; also over the societal discourse in which sustainability is continuously made sense of. We conclude with the attempt to provide a more nuanced view on brands. We acknowledge their effectiveness in ‘bringing sustainable markets to life’, but also stress the risk of brands achieving discursive dominance over the (democratically legitimized) public debate. For this undermines societal efforts to ‘green’ markets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-34
JournalEphemera: Theory and Politics in Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


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