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SB London Day One: 'Stop Impelling People to Change and Start Compelling Them'

Julian Borra explores "Dream in a Box" at SB London '13 | Image credit: Sustainable Brands

Sustainable Brands’ second annual European conference kicked off on Monday at the Lancaster Hotel in central London with a round of thought-provoking morning plenary sessions. What was on the agenda? The latest tools, trends and models driving the shift toward more sustainable consumption.

SB founder and CEO KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz set the tone for the day’s proceedings by reminding us that revenue from a burgeoning sharing economy is set to exceed $3.5 billion this year and setting out the opportunity for "today’s sustainable brands to become tomorrow’s sustainability heroes" by embracing progressive strategies such as collaborative consumption and a more feminine model of brand leadership.

Jo Confino, editorial director of the Guardian Sustainable Business, compèred today’s event and stressed the overarching need for a new narrative on climate change. “We haven’t developed a good idea of what the world needs to look like. Our current model is one where 'products are the heroes' — we need to visualise one where 'people are the heroes.'”

In the morning’s first two plenaries, Chip Walker of Y&R New York, and Denise Turner of Havas Media Group, described the growing ‘spend-shift’ away from mindless consumption towards mindful purchases. A new survey by BAV found that consumers are feeling increasingly alienated from global business, with just 25% feeling they could trust contemporary firms and a majority stating that “they wouldn’t care if three-quarters of today’s brands disappeared overnight.”

Chip Walker

Chip Walker

The two speakers suggested that we are seeing a "marked change in the contract between brand and consumer", away from a 'winner–takes–all' masculine approach, towards the feminine values of greater empathy, respect & imbued meaning. According to John Gerzema’s groundbreaking book, The Athena Doctrine, “66% of people agree that the world would be a better place if men thought more like women”  including surprisingly, 63% of males.

The incentive for spend-shift savvy business is evident: “Meaningful brands” typically out-perform the stock market by 120%, according to Havas’ Meaningful Brand research.

Next, Etienne McManus-White of the Forest Stewardship Council, presented her insights into the challenges posed by the value-action gap:

  • Over 80% of consumers polled believed pollution and climate change are very serious concerns.
  • 76% believe that the purchasing decisions they make can make a difference to the environment.
  • However only 25% are in the habit of researching companies before they use them.

The FSC study identified that consumers were only inclined to switch to green behaviours that directly benefited them, such as by saving them money; otherwise they were likely to maintain that responsibility for ‘fixing’ the environment rested with brands or with the government.

Dorothy MacKenzie, Chairman of Dragon Rouge, added her findings to a growing body of evidence suggesting that consumer’s attitudes to consumption are changing. Apparently, “1 in 4 consumers now feel they’d be better off owning fewer things.” MacKenzie invited brands to recognise this shift as an opportunity for business model innovation and presented examples of how common brands such as McDonald’s, Gillette and B&Q could fit into a new collaborative, service-based landscape.

 Missed these sessions? You can view all plenary sessions through our free Livestream. And stay tuned for more reports from Sustainable Brands London 2013.

After the morning break, John Elkington of Volans, and Marie-Claire Daveu of Kering, outlined the benefits of environmental profit and loss accounting and warned that in future years irresponsible brands risk being held to account in the same way that tobacco manufacturers were at the turn of the century. They explained that by investigating and understanding the impacts of their supply chains, forward-thinking brands can use sustainability as a driver for innovation and a way for their business to create new value.

John Elkington and Marie-Claire Daveu

John Elkington and Marie-Claire Daveu

Denise Alves presented Natura’s ‘Ekos’ brand (meaning ‘our home’ in a local indigenous language), which works with 32 Amazonian communities to source its core ingredients. Alves discussed the importance of getting your flagship company’s sustainability ethos correct in order to spawn successful eco-brands.

Next, Geraldine O’ Grady of Mondelēz International delivered the stark warning that our current global coffee consumption is unsustainable. She reported that at present, 25 million smallholder farmers produce 80% of the world’s coffee, but that this farming community is dwindling as fewer young people are prepared to accept an increasingly challenging profession. Mondelez responded with a ‘Coffee Made Happy’ investment program to make local coffee farming both sustainable & rewarding again, and safeguard not only an age-old profession but the future of their brand.

Geraldine O'Grady

Geraldine O'Grady

Julian Borra gave one of the most inspiring performances of the day, presenting his ‘Dream in a Box’ concept, which aims to “flick a switch in the minds of the 85% of consumers who feel that the ‘end of the week’ comes before the end of the world.” Borra spoke of the need for a new sustainability story, where the negative language of ‘mitigation’ and ‘prevention’ is replaced with a positive narrative of ‘aspiration’ and ‘desire’: “Stop impelling people to change and start compelling them,” he implored. Brands can achieve this transformation by 'mining' consumer insights to understand how to make sustainability more attractive and how to offer a lighter, freer, more uncluttered lifestyle.

Christopher Sveen of innovation platform Sustainia, finished up the morning’s sessions by presenting the case for a ‘solutions-based’ approach to sustainability. Struggling to generate buy-in for more-sustainable behaviours? “Package sustainability opportunities together with the benefit it offers to your target audience”. Having difficulty escaping from the green niche? “Collaborate with your competitors to grow your market.” Sveen stressed the importance of a ‘cyclical approach to innovation,’ whereby a solution is not the end of the story but a catalyst for a new chapter. Water-monitoring software TakaDu, and novel lighting solution Litre of Light, were presented as examples of the ‘inspirational edge needed to drive sustainability forward.’


Adam Tassle Gerschel-Clarke is a freelance sustainable business writer. He explores key topics such as emerging technologies, consumer engagement and business model innovation to identify the opportunities and the risks they present for brands. Adam writes for networks including Sustainable Brands,… [Read more about Adam Gerschel-Clarke]


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