Four really interesting things from SB ‘18

by Jun 7, 2018

I’m in Vancouver this week at the annual Sustainable Brands flagship conference. Though I’ve spent most of my time catching up with old friends and making new ones, I’ve managed to hear a lot of really excellent content. Here are four takeaways/thoughts/questions that we can all benefit from.
1. Start adding social benefits to your brand pyramid
Kirti Singh, VP of Analytics and Insights at P&G, spoke about this, and it was one of those eureka moments for me. We’ve all seen the classic brand pyramid and we’ve all navel gazed about what our brands do for people and how they should make people feel. The notion, then, of how the brand makes society better is a perfect Social benefits in the brand pyramidaddition, and I encourage us all to layer that into our pyramids, considering the brand’s physical, personal and societal benefits.

The real home run is when you can turn the social benefit into a functional or emotional benefit as well. For instance, Kirti noted that Cold Water Tide, while using less electricity (which means a lower carbon impact with every load of laundry), ALSO actually goes easier on clothes, ensuring they last longer. So as the consumer, my clothes get clean, I get to keep them longer and I’ve lowered my impact on the planet. Functional + Societal + Emotional benefits.

2. True sustainable brands also advocate with other brands
David Grayson, Chris Coulter and Mark Lee have created a framework and Sustainability leadershipwritten a book called All In: The Future of Business Leadership. The framework is this: Purpose, Plan, Culture, Collaboration, Advocacy. I’ve been preaching for a long time that brands with a strong purpose are the ones that will thrive in the future (and we have some new research coming out on this very soon). Shelton Group’s model for creating a market advantage through the lens of sustainability includes work on culture – we learned a long time ago that culture change is required for a company to fully embrace and thrive with sustainability, and it’s incredibly hard.

The Advocacy piece was a new one for me and also a eureka moment. It makes perfect sense to me that if you lead in such a way that other companies will follow, it adds to your authenticity and gives even greater credibility and gravitas to your sustainability stand. A good example of this is REI. In a presentation from Alex Thompson, VP of Brand Stewardship and Impact, we learned that over 700 organizations have joined REI in their #optoutside movement. Talk about adding depth to an already incredible, brand-solidifying commitment.

3. What if you put climate impacts on your “menu”?
Climate impact on the menuWe saw a fascinating presentation from Kaj Török, CRO & CSO of Max Burgers, a Swedish fast food chain. The story he told is summed up in this Fast Company article, but he mentioned in passing that they actually “put climate on the menu.” He didn’t show examples, but I’m imagining it’s much like calorie counts following each menu item. I thought this was a terrific idea – imagine if your company voluntarily laid out the climate impact of every product vs. being made to do that via a customer’s or retailer’s scorecard. Very empowering.
4. Much of the sustainability community seems to have accepted the perspective that “plastic is bad”

Full disclosure: we’ve done a lot of work around plastics over the last Plastic and sustainabilitycouple of years on behalf of clients, so my ears were primed to pick up on the comments and interpret the attitudes on this. I’ve long advocated that we need to find a way to change the conversation from “plastic is bad” to “plastic waste is bad.” Truly, our cars don’t get lighter and more fuel efficient without plastics, we don’t tackle food waste without plastics, and we don’t get clean water to people who need it without plastics. But we MUST solve the marine debris problem.

Unfortunately, as the “plastics in the ocean” issue got talked about – and it got talked about a LOT – the comments and attitudes seem to perpetuate the notion that all plastics are bad. From a comment on the main stage that there would be a working session to address the question, “How do we eliminate plastics from our world,” to National Geographic’s presentation about their signature initiative, Planet or Plastic (emphasis mine), the pervasive thinking seems to be that Plastic = Bad.

As sustainability professionals, I think we need to watch our language here. Words matter. And as brands, retailers and governments continue down the plastic deselection path (which is already happening as a reaction to the marine debris problem), we need to be careful not to completely push the entire material to the sidelines and lose the sustainability benefits that plastics can bring in the right applications. Where else do we need to get crisper on our language?

Were you at Sustainable Brands this year? If so, let us know what jumped out to you. What insights and aha’s did you walk away with?
Vancouver Horizon image by Thomas Quine. CC 2.0 license.
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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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