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Change Agents: What Keeps You Up at Night?

In the Wednesday morning plenaries at SB'16 Copenhagen, Aki Ben-Ezra, the Senior Director for Strategy and Diversity at adidas Group, spoke about a collaborative initiative in Germany that seeks to help integrate refugees into the business community. | Image credit: Longfei Wang/Sustainable Brands

“What keeps you up at night?” Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, asked this question to 50 sustainability leaders from around the globe on the third and final day of SB ’16 Copenhagen. The core issues most people responded with were inequality, climate change, recession, refugees, biodiversity loss. “It’s the ‘parade of horribles’ that makes sleep tough at times,” said one survey responder. The theme that came out of the expressed fears was division on multiple fronts: Division of opinions, incomes, outlooks.

Then Townsend asked, what keeps you awake with hope? The list was slightly longer. One response: “People who embrace the dignity of difference.” The common theme was feeling the hope that people are recognizing that it’s okay to have differences in opinion, and that what we need to do is come together to embrace differences of equality. One responder said there exists a combined sense of purpose among people that allows organizations to have purpose.

Throughout, we were fueled with hopeful messages, inspirational speakers and initiatives.



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Paulette Frank of Johnson & Johnson drove home the point that it’s your lens of looking at the world that matters. “No one lens will get the job done, we need all lenses in our toolbox,” she said, explaining that at the end of 2015, after J&J had launched its Healthy Future 2015 Goals in 2010, less than 30 percent of J&J employees were even aware of the organization's goals. It was at this point that J&J decided it needed a bigger lens. The new frame: “Better Health Is Everywhere.” Pivoting to this new frame is helping J&J tap into the soul of the company, showing that the link between environmental health is getting closer every day.

The power of this narrative is working. With an army of 125,000 employees, Johnson & Johnson’s new frame is resonating with employees, many of whom are saying things like, “I never got it until you said the words, ‘environmental health.’” Frank showed us that changing its way of framing things has tapped into the soul of the company - to deliver a healthy planet and healthy people.  

Next, Heineken’s Michael Dickstein shared his four lessons from the brewer’s recent campaign encouraging moderate consumption:

  1. Dive into what stakeholders understand your organization is connected to. A campaign with a loose connection to your core operations will fall flat.
  2. Be honest. Are you tackling the issue or are you shying away?
  3. Be bold. Every brand under Heineken has embraced the responsible consumption campaign.
  4. Be inclusive. While being aware of your core issues, also create your own level playing field. For example, with its theme of Brewing a Better World, Heineken is linking more and more of its brands, including cider, to reach consumers they couldn’t reach with only beer.

Aki Ben-Ezra of adidas Group then shared her company’s mission to inspire and enable people to harness the power of sport everyday in their lives. 1 million asylum seekers registered in Germany last year. Wir Zusammen (“We Together”) is a business network created to complement government aid to asylum seekers. The group is actively promoting employee participation in integrating refugees into Germany society and providing apprenticeship programs, among other integration initiatives. Ben-Ezra shared some of adidas’ key learnings through helping refugees integrate into Germany:

  • Invest in language skills to bridge the gap in communication with asylum seekers.
  • The concept of apprenticeship/internship was not known to refugees; adidas has begun to educate the refugees on the German education/labor market.
  • The legal landscape is challenging and organizations need to collaborate with government on issues such as immigration.
  • Be proactive, rather than reactive – design programs that will help refugees in the long run.

Next, we heard from a series of inspirational artists who are using art to create an active civil society. Project Pressure is documenting receding glaciers and collaborating with brands to bring attention to and create action and participation from the public; while CPH:Change is exploring the current state of art and creative businesses in a digitally networked society and remind us of the critical role of art/brand partnerships in assisting with the shift we seek. The artists showed us how art can help us overcome the divisions we see in society.

Michael Stausholm of Sprout then shared how something so small as a pencil can make a difference. Stausholm shared his advice for entrepreneurs: “Either you are in or you’re not; if you’re passionate about something, you will succeed.”

Jennifer Hinton of the Post Growth Institute closed out the final round of plenaries by sharing how the not-for-profit business model has the potential to systemically transform the economy. By embracing a purpose motive, instead of a profit motive, profits can be funneled into purpose-driven initiatives, instead of into the hands of a few. Changing the structure of our businesses profit motive is key to creating transformational change.

Townsend wrapped up the day with her answer to what keeps her awake with hope: the human ability to give people hope. It was an inspirational final day at SB’16 Copenhagen, filled with hopeful messages, disruptive questions and encouragement for activating our purpose, together.


Nassy is Content Development Manager at Sustainable Brands. Prior to joining the team, she worked as CSR Manager for Sustain Natural, and before that was a Communications Specialist (Writer) for the Institute for Sustainable Communities. Nassy has a J.D.… [Read more about Nassy Avramidis]


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