Brand Strategy Learning Sustainable Transformation

Puma is asking young environmentalists to critique its sustainability strategy


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

April 25, 2023 | 7 min read

The sportswear brand says it wants to give young people a seat at the table on the issues that will affect their futures.


The four young activists will work with Puma’s sustainability team throughout 2023 / Puma

Puma first began overhauling its sustainability strategy around 10 years ago. “But before the company got a new CEO it had kind of lost its brand positioning for a bit,” Kerstin Neuber, senior head of corporate communications at the brand, tells The Drum.

Instead, under then-CEO Bjorn Gulden’s leadership (he left for Adidas in 2022, replaced by Arne Freundt) communications were focused on cementing Puma as a cutting-edge sports brand and sustainability communications “became quiet,” Neuber explains ­­­– but the work continued behind the scenes.

“What’s happened over the years is the corporate sustainability team, supply chain teams and product teams have all been working on our sustainability initiatives at the corporate level,” she explains. This has included work on reducing carbon emissions across the supply chain and increasing the use of sustainable materials.

“Though we communicated this work transparently to our more professional partners and through our sustainability reporting, it wasn’t something we communicated to consumers.”

Its plaudits were hard won. In 2022, the brand topped the Business of Fashion sustainability rankings, the Platform Living Wage Financials rankings and the FTSE4Good rankings in its sector. The brand plans to reduce its emissions by 35% by 2030 – and cut its supply chain emissions by 60%. It’s also starting to look beyond its direct suppliers and into the detail of its main and component suppliers.

But Neuber says it was through working with Puma’s strategic communications partner MSL that it realized it needed to find an innovative way to position its credentials to its younger audience. “We have good initiatives, but they’re highly technical and very corporate. We needed to find a way to communicate them to our target audience, make them understandable and also appealing.”

This was the genesis of ‘Voices of a Re:generation’ – the recruitment of four young environmentalists (with a platform) who will help Puma translate sustainability in a way that will appeal to the next generation, as well as feed into how the brand can improve its practices across the board.

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The four activists include Alice Aedy, a documentary filmmaker and co-founder of climate media agency Earthrise; Andrew Burgess, a US-based ‘upcyling’ content creator; Luke Jaques-Rodney, a sustainable lifestyle vlogger based in Germany; and Jade Roche, a visual artist and creative consultant.

Aedy comments that she was drawn to the project because “sustainability is highly unglamorous, technical but urgent work with impacts for both people and planet. It’s undeniably a hugely complex topic. It’s deeper than just materials or emissions; it’s about the people and processes that strive behind the scenes to realize a brand’s efforts to be more sustainable and it’s also about how the brand, like Puma, is communicating that with authenticity.”

While Burgess adds, “Sustainability can’t be one-sided. You can’t have one brand calling the shots, especially when you have consumers worldwide interacting with your products.”

Neuber continues: “They know exactly how to speak to their audiences and while we want to report transparently, we also welcome their criticism. We don’t have anything to hide,” she says. “Transparency is the key component of this initiative.”

Throughout the year, the creators will meet with Puma’s chief sourcing officer, Anne-Laure Descours, alongside the sustainability team to collaborate and present their views. Neuber says the partnership will explore the ways in which their feedback can be implemented, but of course, make good use of the environmentalists’ platforms to communicate Puma’s efforts.

“We’ve now been asked why we haven’t included older people in the initiative,” says Neuber. “But frankly, we work with experts in the sustainability field. By virtue of being experts, they are older and there is a distinct lack of young people. While they might not have expert backgrounds, they have a point of view on what they want their future to look like and that’s an expertise we were missing.”

Want to learn more about the most important issue of our time? Senior reporter Ellen Ormesher will explore the role of advertising and marketing in the climate crisis. Case studies, tips, interviews and more. Register your interest.

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