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Plenary Speakers Engage and Inspire on Day One of SB London Conference
November 27, 2012
Day one of SB London, Sustainable Brands’ inaugural offshore event, kicked off with a host of engaging and thought-provoking plenary discussions.
After an inspiring video illustrating the conference theme of The Power of “And,” Sustainable Brands CEO KoAnn Skrzyniarz said a heartfelt thank you to those in attendance physically and virtually (via the event’s LiveStream) for helping the SB community convene across the pond for the very first time. She touched on the constantly changing and oft-contested definitions of “sustainability” and “brand” before sharing the community’s definition of a “sustainable brand.” Sally Uren, Deputy Chief Executive of Forum for the Future, framed the opening day’s plenary presentations as all about sharing key insights, drivers, trends and what we might do differently to drive a sustainable future.
Paul Gilding, former CEO of Greenpeace International and author of The Great Disruption, touched on the broader ethos of the driving forces behind the sustainability movement - leading off by saying “we’ve been a total failure” in leading the world to the crisis we’re now in. But he then asserted that this is an important moment in history where we can do extraordinary things; the change needed presents a great opportunity for brands and for business — we have the capacity for this level of change and all we have to do is choose to do so.
Uren returned to moderate a research panel on “Untangling the Consumer Attitude/Behavior Gap.” Charlie Attenborough, Managing Director of International Advertising for National Geographic, examined the paradoxical findings of their Greendex 2012 survey, which explored lifestyle choices of 17,000 people in 17 countries worldwide and found that the most conscientious of respondents also felt the most powerless about the power of individual action to make a difference in the world. Joe Staton, Director & GM at GfK Consumer Trends, detailed similar results from GfK’s Green Gauge Global Survey: despite the fact that consumer concern for the environment remains high, a green behavioral divide still exists across the world — though emerging markets are showing more consistency between attitudes and behaviors.
Raphael Bemporad, Founding Partner & Chief Strategy Officer at BBMG, unveiled the results of the company’s collaborative (with GlobeScan and SustainAbility) Regeneration Consumer Study, which polled consumers in UK, US, Brazil, Germany, India, China. The study identified four consumer segments — advocates, indifferents, practicals and the largest segment (37%), aspirationals, which score high in environmental concern but also in materialism. These young, urban, aspirational consumers embody the power of “and” by seeking out green products and wanting to be a part of the solution, but also valuing style and status and having significant purchasing power — presenting a huge opportunity for brands to engage them (Staton pointed to H&M as an example of a company that is doing this brilliantly with its green fashion line). David North, Executive Director at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, rounded out the panel by pointing out the importance of brand collaboration to find solutions and advance on sustainability.
Benita Matofska, Chief Sharer at The People Who Share, delivered a lively presentation on “The Advent of the Sharing Economy and What It Means to Your Brand.” She asserted that truly sustainable brands are sharing brands that build their businesses around the sharing of our finite physical and human resources. As further evidence of the value of sharing, Matofska revealed that she personally saves £20,000 a year through sharing.
After the coffee break, John Grant, author of Co-opportunity and The Green Marketing Manifesto, expounded on “Cultural Fusion and Creativity,” detailing surprising advancements in sustainability coming out of emerging markets, including a closed-loop system for Chinese carp farming, initiatives through Barefoot College in Jordan and the work of Brazilian cosmetics company Natura. He concluded by saying these types of integrated thinking must be incorporated by business into future technology on a global scale so that “the future will sail, rather than chug.”
Jo Daniels, Director of the Marketplace Campaign at Business in the Community, moderated a panel discussion and Q&A on ways companies are “Choice Editing for Sustainability” and addressing the dilemma between giving shoppers what they want and guiding their choices through editing. Amanda Long, Executive Director at the East Anglia Co-operative Society, an independent retail cooperative with over 200 stores across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, talked about the company’s decision to “Reduce the Strength” - discontinuing sales of products containing more than a certain percentage of alcohol. She said the values and principles of the cooperative movement in the ‘60s were aligned with affordability and convenience; by aligning those principles with sustainability, we can help drive systemic change. Matt Sexton, Director of CSR at B&Q, discussed the home-improvement retailer’s elimination of gas-powered patio heaters and 100% peat bales; he said they know their customers want to make better choices and they want B&Q to do it, too. And Mark Walker, General Manager at Zipcar UK, says their customers choose their service because of cost and convenience, not necessarily sustainability; he also explored balancing the desire to grow the car-sharing model with best meeting the needs of drivers and their cities.
Rounding out the day’s presentations was Gail Klintworth, Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever, who examined the leadership skills required in today’s fast-changing world, and what it means to transform a $50 billion company and its portfolio of brands so that nine billion people can live more sustainably. She outlined several initiatives and identified what she called “The New Rules of Leadership for a Brave New World”: Demand strong leadership and identify clear direction; overcome resistance to being uncomfortable and channel enthusiasm and positive energy; engage people’s intellectual and emotional sides; move beyond traditional leadership toward more collaborative, long-term leadership comfortable with uncertain outcomes; practically apply systems thinking in leadership; and engage youth and women.