3 takeaways from GreenBiz 17 – where the biggest players in CSR all got together in the desert

by | Mar 9, 2017

As most (if not all) of you know, conferences are a mixed bag in what they deliver. The larger they get, the more likely attendees are to come from a variety of backgrounds and sophistication levels.

That tends to lead conference organizers to dilute the content so there’s something for everyone … and the effect for some in the audience is, “Wait, I already know this stuff.” We know, we’ve sat in those audiences. GreenBiz 17 was different.

For example, GreenBiz 17 saw one of Amazon’s first public talks about its environmental strategy. What was discussed may feel a lot like a no-brainer, but put into action by a global player like Amazon, it shows the impact that big business can have by making no-brainer changes.

Kara Hurst, the online retailer’s Director of Worldwide Sustainability, spoke in front of a packed audience, touting how Amazon now partners with a larger network of manufacturers to align shipping containers to more closely match product dimensions, which helps the retailer and the manufacturers decrease environmental impact. This move has helped to conserve more than 1 million trees and more than 160 million additional boxes.

And it went on: cleaner energy was a popular topic, as was the growing attention to making supply chains more sustainable, and also the exploration of what’s on the horizon for circular business models. Out of all of the excellent content, we saw three trends worthy of further mention.

There will be winners and losers in supply chain transparency.

As was noted by sustainability folks from Campbell’s, Asia Pulp & Paper and C&A Fashion Retailer, consumers are calling for supply chain transparency today, and not just in consumable and/or digestible products. They want ingredients that are traceable and manufacturing materials that are sustainable. This growing emphasis is leading to innovations under development now that will allow a consumer, through augmented reality, to simply scan a product and visually follow the product all the way back to its source. Competitor brands are working together on standardizing metrics and developing handbooks for suppliers all the way up the value chain.

The time for business to lead has arrived.

We seem to have full consensus that business will need to own a leadership position on energy and the environment. The notion manifested itself over and over again in mentions at GreenBiz 17 – PepsiCo’s recognition by the United Nations for committing to reduce its water usage by a meaningful percentage, Microsoft’s senior leadership speaking up on sustainability issues, as well as General Motors’ pledge that they are going 100% renewable. By internally committing and externally pledging, the time is now for companies to get more comfortable with telling their stories and recognizing the power of setting goals – more and more consumers are listening, even when they’re not actively looking for it.

The role of business in the circular economy.

Over the past few years, the phrase “circular economy” has gone from buzzword to part of the common sustainability vernacular, and lately it’s continuing the move towards mainstream – corporations are taking note of their role within the circular economy and starting to make this part of their core strategy. We heard from companies like Thread, which is sourcing plastic waste from some of the world’s poorest communities and turning it into fabric for Timberland’s shoes. And from Levi’s, where the sustainability and product development and sourcing teams are so tightly woven together that they impact sustainability across the entire supply chain. We learned from Ellen MacArthur that “we probably only know 2% of what the circular economy really is,” and with the universe of corporate responsibility continuing to expand, there’s a lot of opportunity for more companies to lead the way.

About the Author

Casey Ward

Casey Ward

As Account Director, Casey is responsible for seeing projects through from start to finish, ensuring they stay on task, on budget and on time. She’s led us to success for clients like Environmental Defense Fund and Field to Market.

About the Author

Casey Ward

Casey Ward

As Account Director, Casey is responsible for seeing projects through from start to finish, ensuring they stay on task, on budget and on time. She’s led us to success for clients like Environmental Defense Fund and Field to Market.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and GreenBiz.com.

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Glen L. Vesser III

VP Finance and Administration

Glen manages Shelton Group’s finances and administration, ensuring our internal systems run smoothly so we can provide exceptional client service in a seamless and timely manner. Glen’s financial and administrative expertise has been shaped by decades of experience in a variety of industries, including public accounting, media distribution and health care.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.