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How Partnerships, Disrupting Business Models, Gamifying Energy Became Cornerstones of Innovation for Brands

adidas' Alexis Haass | Image credit: Ignasi Prado/SB

The final morning plenary at SB ’15 London brought together a handful of popular household brands with some established and up-and-coming industry innovators, all of which pulled back the curtain on key success factors for bringing sustainability into their business strategy.

The FMCG business has products and brands that enter our households and lives daily, offering stakeholders of these brands to have a significant and direct impact on the world around us. Daniel Vennard, VP of Sustainability at MARS, shared insights from a new report launching in January 2016, highlighting that businesses wanting to bring effective sustainable practices into reality must engage a multi-stakeholder strategy to be successful. Not only does this include the end consumer, but also retailers, governments and industry bodies, to ensure the end goals of reshaping categories for the better are understood and adopted.

Taking the challenge of increasing low-alcohol beer consumption as an example, Vennard showed that the beer industry had added flavours to bring about a new “refreshment’ category; it worked with government to reduce taxes based on alcoholic volume and used that additional margin to incentivise retailers to place low-alcoholic products on premium facings. The low-alcohol beer category has continued to grow over the last 10 years; innovating new ideas through a multi-stakeholder approach can bring about positive shift in categories for a sustainable future.


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Albert Mathieu shared the success behind the Harmony program at Mondelez International. A leader in the biscuit business, Mondelez focused its sustainability efforts on its key ingredient – wheat. Working with farmers to carefully manage the soil, and using pesticides only when necessary and water only when weather conditions demand it gave Mondelez the quality of product and transparency of raw material supply to make a meaningful impact to its well-being mission. Focus, partnerships and ensuring there is a business benefit from the initiative have guaranteed the longevity and success of the Harmony project within Mondelez with future rollout of the program planned for Europe. But as Mondelez is only buying 0.2 percent of wheat globally, it is now looking to how they can lead a movement to influence other wheat manufacturers and have a bigger impact globally.

“Through sport, we can change lives. This is an adidas core value and we take it seriously,” said Alexis Haass, Head of Sustainability at adidas. The sporting goods mega-brand has attracted some of the world’s best athletes to its brand and is now putting the call out to all creators – whether consumers, athletes, scientists or designers - to help them find solutions to address some of our most challenging issues. adidas has already partnered with Parley for the Oceans, a foundation dedicated to bringing education and awareness to ocean pollution and, in collaboration with The Sea Shepherd, developing a shoe launching in Spring 2016, made of recycled fishing nets from the ocean. adidas also intends to lead the way in custom, recyclable, zero-waste sporting goods. Have an idea to change the world for the better? adidas wants to hear from you.

Behind every great brand … Dirk Voeste of BASF took a different viewpoint on the topic of bringing sustainability into a business’s core strategy. Voeste said as a B2B business, BASF creates chemistry for a sustainable future and part of that is a commitment to drive sustainable solutions that help its partners and BASF internally. They did this by establishing and implementing a structured assessment for sustainable investment and developments to assess projects across agreed sustainable criteria under the heading of “Sustainable Solution Steering.” BASF firmly believes that sustainability drives profitable growth as evidenced by delivering more than €15billion in sales. Voeste concluded that longer-term thinking also involves market differentiation, risk mitigation and innovation, leading to full integration and adoption of sustainable goals along the value chain.

Having worked on the inside for 30 years, Bert van Son, CEO & founder of Mud Jeans, was driven to disrupt the fast fashion industry. Harmful cotton-farming practices, wasteful manufacturing processes and inhumane working conditions are just some of the ‘traditional’ ways of fast fashion that Mud Jeans challenges. The brand asks, what if you didn’t need to be the owner of your jeans? What if we as a denim brand closed the loop? This was how Mud Jeans started “Lease your Jeans,” offering consumers the use of the jeans for a year and then the option to keep them or recycle them in exchange for a new pair. The pairs that are returned get recycled into yarn used for shoes and sweaters along with other denim products. Recently qualifying as a B Corporation, Mud remains a small company but with big ambitions to change the fast fashion industry for the better.

Laurence Kemball-Cook of Pavegen brought an energetic conclusion to the morning session, sharing the meteoric rise of the flooring solution that converts kinetic energy into power. From a bedroom project to a multimillion-euro funded business operating in 10 countries, Kemball-Cook showed how the technology can not only be applied to flooring solutions, but also has the potential for use on stairs and roads. In addition to powering lights, street lamps and rechargeable batteries, the Pavegen technology is offering Big Data solutions, allowing companies to better understand consumer behaviour, literally, from the ground up. Making energy-saving fun has been a key goal of governments and brands for years, and through Pavegen, its finally happened. Pavegen technology can convert your energy generated into a donation to someone else in need, or allow brands to offer rewards for energy generated, or saved. “The gamification of energy is finally here,” he concluded.

As evidenced by the speakers this morning, brands with a strong focus on relevant strategies have the clearest path to achieving their goals. But as also noted this morning, any successful project requires partnerships with multiple stakeholders and ensuring a clear business benefit - critical criteria for brands to have long-term viability and a positive impact on our future. 


American-born, British by blood, Catherine is the uber-communicator and connector behind Remarkable magazine. Her passion for people comes across the interviews she thrives on doing. Co-founder, all-round do-er and living-better master.

[Read more about Catherine Thomason]


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