Q&A with Jen Derks: Four Fin’s Path to Sustainable Branding

New technology and advances in sustainability are exciting, needed, and up against some unique brand challenges. 

Here’s a quick Q&A with Four Fin Founder, Jen Derks, about how the future of sustainability can be bolstered by brand.

Q: What’s going on in the sustainability space?

A: We’ve worked with sustainability companies throughout our history and when a sector we’re passionate about starts to swell in funding and interest, we take note. The market tells us a lot and the early signs are fascinating.

Environmental advocates, organizations, and companies have worked hard for quite some time without a capital audience. However, the times are changing.  Venture Capitalists are popping up with interest in this important sector as their sole focus, and likewise their portfolios are deepening in sustainable offerings. Sustainability becoming more mainstream in the capital markets is exciting and a great sign of what’s to come.

Q: What are the elements of a strong sustainability company?

A: If I had to summarize it… People, data, funding and brand. On the people front, we’re seeing universities, pioneers of environmental sciences, sending graduates into the world whose whole careers are dedicated to the sustainability sector. And they’re trained on how to measure and prove results. That data component becomes important for early credibility. 

The array of problems that need sustainable solutions (the energy transition alone is a massive undertaking) are where they are innovating to solve. New business models, technologies and partnerships are emerging at a clip.

So we have the smarts, talent, and training grounds for them, and we have money flowing in.

We have to be inspiring leaders as much as we are genius inventors for these innovations to thrive.

Q: Where does brand fit in?

From where I sit, brand is often missing from the above in the current landscape. The creators of these ideas have to build strong companies if they are to succeed. Brand is a part of that. The story, the differentiation, the clarity of who you are, what you do, and what you stand for.

In sustainability, brand is a piece that’s often forgotten about. Scientists and engineers often lead with data and tech. And while that’s a compelling and necessary component, it’s not enough. When you’re that smart, and deep in the space, what you offer feels like an obvious solution that people will be stoked to simply discover. 

These scientists are building connections and an important part of the puzzle is to make this technology clear, show how it’s changing people’s lives and make it real. This is where brand comes in. The story is always larger than the innovation itself. 

Q: How will sustainability brands face challenges?

A: Lots of people are trying to solve the crisis we have as a planet. What that looks like is overlapping technologies. Many are coming to the market with similar, but nuanced, solutions. But we can’t “out tech” one another. People buy based on connection.

So when we’re talking about complex solutions, it’s not enough to come to the marketplace with credibility, know-how and science that works. You also have to speak to how you’re solving other challenges. Are we modernizing an industry? Are we revolutionizing waste? Are we solving a gap in the chain in a more equitable way? There’s many ways to position a brand, and a lot of the early work in branding serves to unpack, distill and define the most inspiring truths.

Q: What brand advice can you offer every sustainability brand, regardless of stage or funding?

A: Because there’s a lot of interest and investments going into the energy transition and sustainability is finally a mainstream concept, it’s easy to think (from your seat deep in it) that everyone understands the gravity of what you’ve done. People don’t understand the solutions until you break it way down for them.

You have to do two things at the same time:

  • Help people understand what you do, quickly.
  • Tie the solution to emotional impact.

Emotional impact is not always “how you are changing the world”. In fact, that message alone is one-note and played, luckily for us all. Emotions drive even the most practical business minds to action. And no matter how viable a solution, the world moves by business. Innovation in the private sector is how massive change is made. We believe deeply in policy work and public activism, but we live in a capitalistic society. To get these amazing solutions to market, you have to think like businesspeople; we have to be inspiring leaders as much as we are genius inventors for these innovations to thrive.

And that’s the work we’re dedicated to.

Sustainability brands are our specialty. Book a chat.

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We care deeply about sustainability branding, graphic design, industry trends, company culture, and more. Dive into the minds of our team on the Four Fin blog, The Deep End.

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