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SB Brand Transformation Roadmap to Help Companies on Journey to True Sustainability

Dimitar Vlahov (left) and Kevin Hagen launch the SB Brand Transformation Roadmap Monday at SB'18 Vancouver | Image credit: Kim Bellavance/Sustainable Brands

Yesterday at SB'18 Vancouver, Kevin Hagen — VP of Environment, Social and Governance Strategy at Iron Mountain — and Dimitar Vlahov, Director of Content Development at Sustainable Brands (SB), offered a sneak peek at the SB Brand Transformation Roadmap (SM). Built for an executive audience, the first-of-its-kind Roadmap is a framework any organization can use as a compass towards setting goals and measuring progress towards becoming a truly "sustainable brand."

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In their afternoon breakout session, Hagen and Vlahov shared how they created the framework with the help of a team of SB Advisory Board members — including Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company; Laura Palmeiro, Sustainability Integration Lead at Danone and Senior Advisor at the UN Global Compact; Virginie Helias, VP of Global Sustainability at Procter & GambleDaniel Aronson, founder of Valutus; and Kevin Moss, Global Director of Business Center at World Resources Institute — to create the framework, and how they grappled with finding an accessible, standardized language for sustainability. As Vlahov said, a big challenge is that "the sustainability industry is using different words to mean the same thing and the same words to mean different things."

Companies are still approaching sustainability in different ways and, along with the many challenges, there is no one clear path to success. The fast pace of change is dictating that companies approach sustainability differently than they were even just a few years ago. So, the SB team seized the opportunity to capture a comprehensive process within a simple matrix format and create a diagnostic tool that allows companies to create a customized sustainability plan. The practical, flexible tool provides opportunity for self-assessment, continuous improvement and goal prioritization. Companies that use the tool will be able to set their own direction with milestones of their choosing. It applies to all companies regardless of leadership style, sustainability focus, industry or rate of momentum around sustainability.

As broadly defined by SB founder and CEO KoAnn Skrzyniarz, "A sustainable brand is a brand that surprises and delights all stakeholders in this and future generations." In developing the Roadmap, the team found that a comprehensive definition of a "sustainable brand" includes the following five key characteristics:

  • Purpose beyond profit – has a clearly stated, articulated and embedded environmental or social purpose beyond producing profit.
  • System-wide brand influence – leverages the power of brand influence to drive a systemic shift toward a sustainable world.
  • Regenerative operations – operates in a way that ensures the health, resilience and flourishing of society and the environment.
  • Net Positive products and services – delivers products and services that result in sustainable outcomes across the whole value chain.
  • Transparent and proactive governance – demonstrates strong commitment to transparency, integrity and leadership in governance.

The framework presents the pathway to sustainability as a five-stage process, moving from a conventional business (Level 1) to a sustainable brand (Level 5) – at which the organization is "profitably operating in a net positive business ecosystem by generating or restoring social, environmental and economic capital" – and companies can use the Roadmap to assess their progress on the five characteristics: Purpose, Brand Influence, Operations, Products & Services, and Governance.

According to Hagen and Vlahov, we are still very much in the beginning stages and the world has yet to see a Stage 5 company. "More companies have not started than are on the journey," Hagen said. "Getting started is hard, and then progress tends to plateau. Basically, if you are in Stage 2, you should be feeling great!"

Session participants reacted to the framework with enthusiasm, curiosity and some critical feedback. Some comments focused on how the tool defines and describes sustainability: whether the term indicates ecological balance or something beyond, such as human systems that are regenerative and thriving. Others asked, is Stage 5 really the end state? Is it the best that we know right now? Others wondered how the Roadmap differs from or complements the many other sustainability assessment frameworks available, and how it might account for the system aspects of sustainability.

Hagen encouraged participants to view the Roadmap more as a practical tool to inspire organizational leaders and drive an internal process of reflection, than as a lever for brand profile.

"I don't want this to create a more competitive environment among us," he said. "We all face the chaotic and unpredictable economy of tomorrow and sustainability is our collective challenge. We all have to get there together as a group."

The SB Brand Transformation Roadmap is currently exclusively available for companies in the SB Corporate Member Network. Companies interested in learning more about the self-assessment tool and how it maps a customized pathway for approaching and defining sustainability goals are encouraged to request more information.


Barbara is a community planner with a background in environmental, social and Indigenous planning and activism in Canada and internationally. She is an Associate of Reeve Consulting, where she supports clients to create, improve and share the success of their sustainable supply… [Read more about Barbara Everdene]

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