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Redefining Ethical Business, Education, Activism, Customer Experiences All Key to 'The Good Life'

"How to transform?" Axel Flügel from Unilever Southern Cone discusses circular solutions for packaging during a case talk at SB'17 Buenos Aires | Image credit: SB Buenos Aires

Last week, at the third and final SB Buenos Aires event of 2017, perspectives from the worlds of arts, finance, education, big business, healthcare, urban planning, consumers, activist brands and more provided a 360-degree look at how organizations around the world are working to manifest our changing vision of “The Good Life” – and highlighted the amount of work yet to be done.

The first speaker of the morning, Joan Antoni Melé, received rousing applause after laying out his straightforward assessment of ethics and transparency as vital (and often lacking) aspects of business. The former Deputy General Manager of Triodos Bank in Spain and VP of the Triodos Foundation reminded us that unlimited growth doesn’t exist in nature – it’s not a question of sustainability, but the nature of life itself. Triodos Bank is known as a pioneer in “ethical banking” because of its policies and transparency; but as Melé pointed out, we create the market - should we allow “non-ethical banking”? If a bank can change, any company can change, he said. He challenged attendees to “lose your fear” and embrace the shift to more ethical ways of doing business.

Next, Dr. Nick Udall, CEO of British creative consultancy nowhere, asserted: “Conventional leaders are now reaching a ceiling of capability.” In this new world, holding court with our big brains and egos is not enough, and working longer and harder isn’t possible, he said – we need new levels of creativity, innovation, productivity. We need to change the frequency at which we operate – learning how to become time-rich, build integrated ecosystems of teams with safe environments for feedback, be emergent and adaptive, be purposeful and passionate, where we leap instead of push. The key, he insisted, is to move from cycles of high performance to peak performance – where every action or decision leads effortlessly to the next. Leaders should step out of the middle (where they dominate the space) to the side, where they can hold space for breakthrough to happen.

Later in the morning, Gabriel Lanfranchi, Director of Cities at Cippec – a nonprofit that analyzes and promotes public policies that promote equity and growth in Argentina – outlined the role of smart, resilient cities and a collaborative economy in manifesting these goals locally and around the world. As he described, “smart” cities are those that will be able to weather all kinds of challenges in an integral, collaborative way. He highlighted Accenture’s Digital Paris initiative and The Dow Chemical Company’s work to create integral urban development in the Argentinean province of Bahia Blanca as examples of how brands can drive such changes.

Building on the theme of collaboration, Eevamaija Vuollo – policy advisor for Chile’s Educación2020 – shared insights on new models of primary education that focus on cultivating critical thinking and collaboration skills. While our world keeps changing, our education system has stagnated; predominant classroom processes and structures involving students being told what to do, memorizing one correct answer and working on their own haven’t changed much since the 19th century. Students can’t develop critical thinking skills on their own, she asserted; we need alternative education systems to keep up with rapid changes in the world. Vuollo presented the example of Finland, whose system focuses on collaboration and personalization (no standardized tests!). Finland has become famous because it questions Pisa’s methods and focus on traditional competencies in favor of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and a capacity to create new things. Vuollo espoused the virtues of more exchange of knowledge between teachers and students, and phenomenon- and project-based learning models, in which students develop critical thinking skills while developing solutions to real-world problems – an approach which also combines learning in many subjects in each project.

Next, while Greg Koch’s presentation was intended to highlight Coca-Cola’s water-stewardship efforts throughout South America, it was derailed by the appearance of a polite yet persistent Greenpeace protestor, whose sign asked Coca-Cola’s Sprite brand, “¿Cuándo vas a reforestar? (When are you going to reforest?)” Koch, Coca-Cola’s Senior Director of Global Water Stewardship, handled the interruption gracefully and then continued, detailing the beverage giant’s work protecting water throughout its value chain, primarily through a non-export business model – working on watershed protection at the source. Bringing it back to the day’s theme of the good life, he asserted that it isn’t possible without ensuring everyone has access to safe, clean water; Coca-Cola is working to provide that, he said, through transparency (via watershed/wetlands restoration reports), collaboration (with NGOs and other orgs, companies, governments, plus with competitors – water security is a pre-competitive issue) and addressing issues locally as well as globally; working to protect basins to conserve millions of liters of water and reforest thousands of hectares.

Speaking of reforestation (and transparency), after Koch’s presentation, Soledad Izquierdo, VP of Public Affairs and Communications for Coca-Cola’s South Latin Business Unit, took the stage to address the issue raised by Greenpeace – concerning La Moraleja, a citrus grower in Argentina’s Salta province that supplies lemon concentrate for Sprite, which Greenpeace contends is destroying the area’s natural forests. Izquierdo said Coca-Cola is working with the NGO to get to the bottom of the issue.

Continuing the activism theme, Chris MillerBen & Jerry’s Social Activism Manager – described how the beloved ice cream brand has leveraged the opportunity to align its CSR efforts with the concerns and needs of its fans to drive progress toward a cleaner, better world. For centuries, the church was the most powerful entity in society, then governments – now it’s corporations. Brands miss opportunities to engage their customers in anything other than their own self-interest, Miller said. In a sea of great ice cream companies, Ben & Jerry’s has differentiated itself by using its brand to drive social change. Miller contrasted the company’s approach of issue advocacy to traditional cause marketing campaigns – the company starts with the change it wants to see in the world, not what it thinks its fans care about. The result? Fan loyalty is fierce.

Ben & Jerry's Chris Miller | Image credit: Jennifer Elks

Miller left attendees with a few rules – be courageous; work with stakeholders that share your values to build movements; ask not what those partners can do for you, ask what you can do for the movement; if it’s not risky, it’s not worth doing – and asserted that it’s worth it for a brand to risk being disliked by a few to become intensely loved by many.

After lunch, a series of case talks by companies including Tetra Pak, Unilever and more discussed how South American companies are innovating in the areas of renewables, circular economic models for materials and more.

Then, Holonomics Education co-founders Simon and Maria Robinson shared their innovative approach to customer experience design, which they contend is the forgotten element of sustainability. Their mission is to help companies radically redesign customer experiences, based on their holonomics approach – which centers on a dynamic conception of wholeness. Holistic approaches and systems fell to the wayside, especially in the West, when the idea of quantification rose to the forefront. Now, the Robinsons are working to bring back this dynamic conception of wholeness to the business world – with a goal of redefining the good life through flourishing business models and “customer experiences with soul,” the latter of which they literally wrote the book on.

The Robinsons asserted that “soul” is the most disruptive word we can use when describing innovation. By way of illustration, they told the story of Brazilian hair care company Laces, whose business model centers not on conventional notions of external beauty, but around the natural care of hair – in salons built with biophilic design principles; with an in-house line of natural, non-toxic hair care products and other innovative methods of reducing the waste and pollution associated with “conventional” hair care; and more.

Speaking of customer experience, GlobeScan’s Alvaro Almeida shared findings of a recent joint study with BBMG exploring the consumer perspective on what constitutes “the good life.”In Argentina, people tend to not acknowledge companies in terms of their CSR efforts; while in Brazil – where trust in government, companies, press and other institutions is minimal low – consumers understandably don’t believe corporate CSR efforts are authentic. When asked “how would you describe the good life?,” people in South America and across the world referenced the same four common themes – health/wellbeing; financial stability; significant relationships; a sense of purpose. 

GlobeScan's Alvaro Almeida sums up the brand imperative for delivering "the good life" to today's consumers: "Poner a las personas en el centro de las marcas y los negocios (Put people at the center of brands and business)" | Image credit: Jennifer Elks

The opportunity – or rather, imperative – for brands wishing to earn and retain loyalty from consumers around the world is to find authentic ways to put people and their wellbeing at the center of their brand strategy and communications.

 


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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