“Failure is temporary but change is real,” said Sophia Mendelsohn, head of Sustainability at JetBlue Airways, during the Wednesday evening plenary at SB'16 San Diego.
While many Silicon Valley tech firms wear failure as badges of honor, many brands shy away from admitting their defeats. But this is beginning to change, as companies learn that confessing and even celebrating failure is is key to building sustainability strategies and purpose-driven innovation.
“We need to communicate more about our failures,” said Monique Oxender, Chief Sustainability Officer at Keurig Green Mountain. However, this is easier said than done.
Keurig Green Mountain experienced several small failures along its path toward improving sustainability, but it avoided talking about it to stakeholders. Internally, many booming voices called for organizational changes, such as cutting production of wasteful single-serve coffee.
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While the company could have stopped making the single-serve shots, consumer demand for the products meant that simply dropping them would mean another company would pick it up. That’s why Keurig Green Mountain decided instead to address and fix the problem and design a more sustainable single-serve coffee shot.
“Those with the loudest voices don’t always have the best solution,” Oxender said. The solution they want isn’t always what our consumers want. And we have to reconcile the two.”
“It’s not about how hard you get, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep going,” said Switzer, summoning the popular Rocky quote.
“For me, sustainability is about meeting people where they are,” said Geof Rochester, managing director of The Nature Conservancy. That’s why marketing and communications are key components of sustainability success.
Rochester said he believes companies and organizations are failing to properly listen to internal and external stakeholders and recalibrate. Success in sustainability often means changing culture, which is no simple task.
“Culture eats strategy for lunch,” Rochester said, and referred to “the humbling experience of thinking you have this locked but then face pushback.”
Sometime failure comes from within. Omar Mitchell, VP of CSR at the National Hockey League, told the story of how his team developed an ambitious plan to refurbish 100 ice rinks to mark its 100-year anniversary. While he thought he had planned for everything, including where to find the money for the project’s $100 million price tag, NHL executives weren’t sold and the project was scaled down.
"Sometimes we are so caught up in the weeds in sustainability that we neglect to understand our audience,” Mitchell said. “We can’t take for granted that everyone is going to be on board, even if we have the culture.”