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T o p T a k e a w ay s
Sustainable Brands Conference
June 2013, San Diego
www.sustainablebrands.com

Two thousand delegate...
Here’s what one first-timer
gathered from the experience.

1. We have a systems problem.
Sustainability is not just about ...
3. Our lexicon is flawed.
The word “consumer” is part of the problem. We are all stakeholders. Even future generations
sho...
6. Cities are sustainability leaders.
Whether of economic necessity or because the conscious customer is closer to the sou...
8. Ratings and certification initiatives really work.
The Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Apparel, Ekocycle, bcorp - the ...
11. Employees are our most important stakeholder group.
Unilever’s new head of sustainability for North America Jonathan A...
15. Celebrity still works.
Green Mountain coffee took a complex, abstract issue like fair trade and made it resonant.
Grea...
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Sustainable Brands Conference Takeaways

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One first-timers learnings from the Sustainable Brands conference 2013, San Diego. A "Sustainability 101" for the uninitiated or those looking for a refresh.

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Sustainable Brands Conference Takeaways

  1. 1. T o p T a k e a w ay s Sustainable Brands Conference June 2013, San Diego www.sustainablebrands.com Two thousand delegates from around the world. Four jam-packed days. More than 150 speakers and presenters. The seventh annual Sustainable Brands conference brought together leaders and innovators in sustainability to share insights and inspire action.
  2. 2. Here’s what one first-timer gathered from the experience. 1. We have a systems problem. Sustainability is not just about a new way of doing business. It requires wholesale change to our thinking, our infrastructure and our systems of economic measurement. Many speakers addressed the need to redefine value to go beyond the currently limiting measure of value as exclusively monetary and to look at a broader social and environmental interpretation of value and their interdependence. We work in supply networks, not just chains. “Value is in me, on me and around me,” said one speaker. 2. There is no waste. “We don’t have an energy problem. We have a material problem” As William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle succinctly states: “We don’t have an energy problem. We have a material problem” and he advocates for “endless resourcefulness.” Terracycle’s CEO Tom Szaky points out that garbage doesn’t exist in nature. We created it and now we need to create a demand for it. His company “upcycles,” taking traditionally non-recyclable post-consumer waste and converting it into utility such as playgrounds made entirely out of flip flops. And even Imperial Tobacco has allowed smokers to do good too by appending a sealable, self-mailer sack to the cigarette package so that butts can be shipped to a central location for recycling. Walmart and Colgate have installed recycle bins for otherwise non-recyclables like toothpaste tubes and brushes. Staples takes our kids’ old school binders. And Levi’s Waste-Less jeans have underlined the opportunity to transform waste into a commodity. T OP T AKEAWAYS S U S T A I N A B L E B R A N D S C O N F E R E N C E © co r k t ow n s e e d co m pa n y 2013
  3. 3. 3. Our lexicon is flawed. The word “consumer” is part of the problem. We are all stakeholders. Even future generations should be considered a stakeholder group. One speaker proposed “prosumer” as a better alternative. Capitalism as we know it, based on consumerism and a one-dimensional interpretation of capital as exclusively financial does not reflect what sustainable brands are engaged in. There are lots of new terms floating around: capitalism 2.0 or (CAP2.0), the circular economy, conscious capitalism, new capitalism, green, clean capitalism, inclusive business (includes the poorest need to move in the world in the value chain). “We from Take-MakeWaste to borrowUse-Return” We need to move from Take-Make-Waste to Borrow-Use-Return, says Bob Willard. Even the term sustainability is problematic as it refers to maintenance not excellence. McDonough says that all we’re measuring is our “less badness” which is “insufficient to the task.” 4. We are market makers. When confronted with internal opposition to the pursuit of sustainability, brand experts need to remember that historically many new products came first, and the marketers followed with the expectation that they would find customers for the new goods. 5. Innovation is about constant iteration rather than instant perfection. Nikil Arora and Alejandro Velez of Back to the Roots developed a technique to grow mushrooms from discarded coffee grounds. They started with a prototype and one store and today have sold 350,000 kits for home use in stores across the United States. On their second product, a self-cleaning fish tank that grows food, they used Kickstarter to fund the mold and raised $150,000 in 30 days. The moral of their story? “Don’t be afraid to share,” they say. T OP T AKEAWAYS S U S T A I N A B L E B R A N D S C O N F E R E N C E © co r k t ow n s e e d co m pa n y 2013
  4. 4. 6. Cities are sustainability leaders. Whether of economic necessity or because the conscious customer is closer to the source, cities are innovating in the sustainability space. Chicago, for one, has developed the first permeable sidewalks. 7. NGOs are shifting from threats to collaborators. Many companies are recognizing that more can be accomplished together than alone so moving from “me” to “we” was a common refrain. At the same time, adversarial relations yield only one winner and when it comes to the moral high ground the victor is not going to be the corporation. Walmart presents a great example of this. Through its Food and Agriculture Sustainable Value Network (SVN) the company is working with a collection of NGOs to reduce food waste and build the capacity of farmers to optimize production and source sustainable products. In so doing they have transformed suppliers into partners. T OP T AKEAWAYS S U S T A I N A B L E B R A N D S C O N F E R E N C E © co r k t ow n s e e d co m pa n y 2013
  5. 5. 8. Ratings and certification initiatives really work. The Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Apparel, Ekocycle, bcorp - the list is long for a reason. These cooperative strategies establish the standards and maintain accountability and transparency. And in the developing world, they can take a small enterprise from struggling to sustainable. Johnson & Johnson set out to green their Bandaid box and ended up contributing to the growth of a sustainable recycling business in the slums of Brazil. The implementation of SA8000, a global social accountability standard for ethical working conditions, was the catalyst. And in the value chain, J & J has shifted from benefactor to customer. 9. When it comes to sustainability, stick to your core business. Interface, the global carpet tile company, got its feet wet in supply chain activism by commissioning hand woven Indian rugs. They were beautiful objects that helped support local artisans but they weren’t commercially successful. This led them to look at their existing carpet tiles and focus instead on where and how they were sourcing nylon. Fishing nets turned out to be a huge source of post-consumer nylon. From there Net-Works was born, turning hazardously discarded Philippine fishing nets into local economic development, ocean health and business growth. American Standard worked with Bill and Melinda Gates to tackle the spread of disease in Bangladesh due to poor sanitation. Together they reinvented the toilet creating a new market for a $1.50 toilet and addressing a major public health problem. 10. Don’t buy this jacket. We need to innovate aggressively in sustainability communications so that Patagonia’s ground-breaking campaign is not the only one we cite. T OP T AKEAWAYS S U S T A I N A B L E B R A N D S C O N F E R E N C E © co r k t ow n s e e d co m pa n y 2013
  6. 6. 11. Employees are our most important stakeholder group. Unilever’s new head of sustainability for North America Jonathan Atwood shared that the company tells a story every week about an employee’s contribution to their Sustainable Living Plan. “It builds community,” he says. It’s also important to note that employees are a company’s greatest brand ambassadors. 12. The giants. Ray Anderson Yvon Chouinard Paul Polman 13. Humanize your brand. Stories are obviously the best way to do this. Jonah Sachs, author of Story Wars reminds us that every story has a moral (which makes storytelling particularly apropos for the sustainability space) and a protagonist (the audience). Values are the foundation. He uses Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (higher level values such as perfection, wholeness, simplicity, uniqueness) as the basis for storytelling in our space, rather than Freud’s story is the lower level values (fear, greed, inadequacy, etc.) “The fundamental tool for social change” “The story is the fundamental tool for social change,” says innovator Joe Brewer. 14. When it comes to social, marketing fundamentals matter. “Social listening” is social media’s version of market research. Listen to what’s happening in the world and what your stakeholders care about. “You need to know what the conversation is before you start saying something. Otherwise you’ll just repeat what others are saying,” offers Thatcher Young, “the industry’s first sustainability director.” T OP T AKEAWAYS S U S T A I N A B L E B R A N D S C O N F E R E N C E © co r k t ow n s e e d co m pa n y 2013
  7. 7. 15. Celebrity still works. Green Mountain coffee took a complex, abstract issue like fair trade and made it resonant. Great coffee. Good vibes enlisted the “barefoot musician,” Michael Franti to take the message out by visiting the source in Sumatra and using music to educate the coffee company’s stakeholders on fair trade. 16. There are few new ideas (just recycled ones). Architect and Designer Bill McDonough was commissioned by the city of Hannover, Germany to develop a set of sustainable design principles for Expo 2000. They still stand true. 17. Customers care. Havas Media’s Meaningful Brands report, released at the conference, demonstrated that “meaningful brands” outperformed the stock market by 120%. The majority of consumers would not miss 92% of the top brands. They believe only 9% of brands contribute to quality of life and yet their consumer preferences have shifted from status and luxury to health and well-being. Look here for the complete findings as well as a list of the top 25 meaningful brands. The Regeneration Roadmap project’s research on consumers and the future of sustainability identified a new target group: the aspirationals, who show promise to move the business of sustainability forward. T OP T AKEAWAYS S U S T A I N A B L E B R A N D S C O N F E R E N C E Contact Julia Howell, self-appointed ambassador for Sustainable Brands Julia@corktownseedco.com 416-364-0797 x204 © co r k t ow n s e e d co m pa n y 2013

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