Inspiring customers, employees and fans of your brand is easy with one thing: Authenticity. Clif Bar shows how this is possible.

February 20, 2024

5 Min Read
Using authenticity to inspire

The first and most important reality about sustainability for brands today is that consumers care about the planet. Some care more than others, but in various categories of business, natural products being one—sustainable practices should be considered table stakes. According to a 2023 Nutrition Business Journal Sustainability Marketing report, 30% of consumers have shifted to buying from new brands driven by sustainability values.  This trend is amplified by the values-driven purchasing habits of younger generations like Gen Z and millennials. For Consumer-Packaged Goods (CPG) companies and retailers, this signifies a critical opportunity; it’s no longer sufficient to merely adopt sustainable practices, but imperative to integrate them authentically into a brand’s story.

The challenge, however, lies in how sustainability is communicated.  The messaging must be clear, authentic and resonate with the target audience. Today, the emphasis is on a holistic approach that balances planetary concerns with social responsibility. Consumers and employees alike seek authenticity and purpose, not just in their personal lives but in their interactions with brands. Environmental responsibility and  social responsibility are deeply interconnected, and it is important to highlight both areas of focus,” says Sarah Beaubien, Senior Director of Impact & Sustainability at Clif Bar. “For more than 20 years in leading sustainability work, we've successfully identified and acted on these points of intersection.” As a business widely recognized for its purpose and values, these efforts have paid off.

Clif Bar is an American business known for producing organic energy and snack bars.  Clif stands out in the food industry for its innovative and sustainable approach to business before B Corp and similar certifications were established. Clif Bar guides its business decisions through the lens of five aspirations, sustaining its people, community, planet, brands and business.

"In my sustainability career within consumer-packaged goods companies, I have never encountered a business where core values are as deeply embedded as Clif,” shares Beaubien.

Leading by Example

"At Clif, we believe in the multiplier effect. When our products and how we run the business are living out a positive purpose, we authentically inspire others to take bold action. When actions start as small ripples and become big waves, that is how we create transformational change,” explains Beaubien.

CLIF Kid®, a Clif Bar product, sets a high standard in corporate responsibility with its USDA Organic claim and Climate Neutral Certification, illustrating a deep commitment to the health of the planet for future generations. With significant steps to measure, reduce and compensate for the brand’s greenhouse gas emissions through investments in solar cookstoves and renewable energy projects, CLIF Kid® exemplifies true leadership in global climate action. The Climate Neutral Certified label that CLIF Kid® products earned in 2023 is a call for consumers and similar brands to make environmentally conscious choices.

Building on this foundation of environmental stewardship, Clif Bar extends its dedication to sustainability through its long-time commitment to responsibly sourcing organic ingredients. This is emphasized through sustainability seals and certifications such as the USDA Organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified™, showcasing its unwavering commitment to sourcing ingredients that meet the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility. This ethos is reflected in the significant volume of organic ingredients utilized in the business’s product lines since 2003.

The business’s commitment to organic sourcing is a cornerstone of its sustainability goals and sets an industry benchmark, illustrating the synergy between responsible sourcing and business success. Clif Bar also advocates and supports funding for organic agriculture to enhance the economic stability of its farming partners.

Empowering Through Education and Impact

Clif Bar’s comprehensive efforts, such as the Clif Endowment program launched in 2014, spearheaded a 10-million-dollar investment in organic research to be shared across four land grant universities. This included one to Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. “This is not just about research; It's about leveraging these investments to improve access to organic agriculture, and all the benefits it brings, particularly in the Southeast. This is especially important for those that have been historically left out - including young farmers, and farmers of color," says Beaubien. “Our sustainable agriculture and community impact teams work cohesively to support farmers and reduce our greenhouse gas footprint in key crop areas. This collaborative effort spans various partnerships, encompassing our employees, NGOs, coalitions and athletes, creating a diverse and impactful network.”

The recently announced $1 million Tuskegee University endowment supports the work of Dr. Kokoasse Kpomblekou, Endowed Chair and Research Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at the university's College of Agriculture, Environment & Nutrition Sciences. Dr. Kpomblekou and his team focus on research and extension services for organic farmers in Alabama, consumer education on the benefits of organic products and a dynamic youth engagement summer program. These initiatives introduce younger generations to organic farming and underscore Clif Bar's dedication to fostering inclusive and sustainable food systems.

When it comes to exemplifying the brand’s commitment to community engagement and employee volunteerism, Clif Bar established an 'In Good Company' program in 2008, that has galvanized volunteers from values-driven businesses to create a substantial community impact. Most recently in October 2023, they partnered with Living Lands & Waters—an organization dedicated to the preservation of rivers and watersheds and employees made a significant contribution by removing 44,410 pounds of trash from the Ohio River. This effort is part of Clif Bar's broader mission to remove one million pounds of plastic waste by 2025, demonstrating a commitment to environmental conservation and empowering its workforce in meaningful ways.

By embracing a comprehensive approach that includes climate action, sustainable practices, responsible sourcing and community engagement, Clif Bar stands as a paradigm for businesses aiming to authentically inspire its stakeholders. “Our brand-led, purpose-driven partnerships reflect diversity and aim to make our strategies accessible and inspiring for others in the industry,” says Beaubien.

This philosophy is not merely strategic—it's a call to unified action. Clif Bar, together with like-minded partners, will share actionable strategies for this work during its education session at Natural Products Expo West 2024 on Thursday from 3:00 – 4:30 PM, in Marriott Platinum 5. The session is titled: "5 Ways to Authentically Inspire Customers, Employees and Fans of Your Brand: A Call-to-Action for CPG Companies and Retailers in 2024 and Beyond." This event represents an opportunity for collaborative learning and illustrates how, with the right cross-functional collaboration, impactful sustainability is achievable for any brand.

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