SB’19 Detroit was off to an engaging start this week, with powerhouses including Allbirds, Cisco, Eileen Fisher and Timberland comparing notes with rising craft brands and even Little Miss Flint on the most effective ways to continue to drive change toward a healthy, sustainable future.
Timberland rallies troops to beautify Detroit community art park
by Mike Hower
On Monday morning, Timberland kicked off an action-packed week here at SB'19 Detroit by leading members of the SB community, as well as the Detroit community, in a day of revitalizing the Lincoln Street Art Park — an outdoor community learning space created by local nonprofit Green Living Science. The space is free to use by Detroiters for social gatherings, recreation and even meditation.
Arriving bright and early, the volunteers broke into several groups to help spruce up the public space. While some built a green roof on a shipping container classroom, with INHABITECT president Nathan Griswold; others built benches, tire beds, a play space and a butterfly garden; while other teams helped to clean, plant, weed and mulch. The rest tested their artistic prowess by painting a nature-themed mural with local street artist fel3000ft.
Timberland led the outing as part of its goal to create or restore 500,000 square feet of green space in US cities by 2023. This has the potential to bring significant environmental benefits (cleaner air, improved drainage, reduced ground temperatures, and more), as well as positive social impacts to our communities, according to Atlanta McIlwraith, Timberland’s Senior Manager of Community Engagement and Communication. This year, the company will revisit New York, Philadelphia and LA, along with Detroit.
Top, L-R: A local Detroiter, Timberland's Atlanta McIlwraith, Detroit Dirt's Pashon Murray and Green Living Science's Natalie Jakub welcome volunteers to the urban greening event | Bottom: Volunteers beautify Lincoln Street Art Park || Images credit: Sustainable Brands
After several hours of hard work, the attendees left the park much improved and ready to be enjoyed by the people of Detroit.
As a member of the Detroit community, who frequents the park and took part in the event, told the crowd: “This is about empowering ourselves and the community. But the bigger picture is the environment and our passion for protecting it.”
New research further examines consumers’ ideas of the ‘Good Life’
by Melissa Radiwon
Image credit: Sustainable Brands
Several consumer attitude and behavioral studies, related to sustainability, were highlighted during the Monday morning research roundtable with all suggesting that consumers think sustainability is important, however there may be a gap between aspiration and action.
First, Kristen Stevens — senior marketing manager, US, for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) — shared findings from a 2018 general public poll of approximately 25,000 consumers in which US consumers indicated a desire for independent verification of sustainability claims. However, only 25 percent of those surveyed were noticing products with ecolabels (such as MSC’s blue fish label) that provide independent certification of product sustainability. The study also found that, while consumers are aware of sustainability issues such as plastic/ocean pollution and overfishing, there is not a lot of emotional connection.
Stevens suggested that a combination of emotion, evidence and reassurance is needed for consumers to accept sustainability claims.
“Consumer expectation is higher than ever,” said Marie Stafford, European director for the Innovation Group at Wunderman Thompson.
Highlighting findings from The New Sustainability: Regeneration survey of approximately 2,000 adults in the UK, US, Australia and China, Stafford noted 79 percent of people are conscious of their personal impact on the planet and 92 percent are trying to live more sustainably. However, there is still a behavior gap where people want to do the right thing, but don’t always manage to do it. As Stafford pointed out, “An alternative is not always there, available, affordable, accessible or convenient.”
The study indicated that sustainability is becoming a stronger driver than quality and sustainability practices should be standard – including suppliers.
Next, Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of Shelton Group, drilled down to focus on buying behavior of millennial women, especially when it comes to feminine hygiene products. When asked if they would swap out traditional period products for reusable options, 47 percent of millennial women said they would. This group has $170 billion in spending power, will train their daughters, and share with their peers in a we’re-in-this-together mindset.
Shelton was quick to point out that any product still needed to link product performance, product price, and human health/safety with environmental benefits for any idea to be ripe for disruption.
“If you can align health, price, performance, and environmental benefits, then tell your story. Where the four benefits align, consumers will prioritize your brand and buy your products.” — Suzanne Shelton
Whitney Dailey, VP of Porter Novelli/Cone Communications, then shared findings from their 2018 Purpose Study that compared consumer reactions to purpose-driven versus function-driven brand messaging. The study aimed to see past the aspirational answers, so utilized biometric research — measuring heart rate, facial expressions and skin conductance.
Purpose-driven brands ignited physical and emotional responses, built deeper bonds, and inspired brand advocates and amplifiers.
Randi Kronthal-Sacco, senior scholar from NYC Stern Center for Sustainable Business, backed that up with eye-opening statistics for CPG companies.
Using point of sale information in 36 categories with over 70,000 products, Stern research found that while sustainably marketed products make up 16.6 percent of the CPG market, they delivered 50 percent of the growth between 2013 and 2018, and grew 5.6 times faster than conventionally marketed products. In those five years, sustainable product purchases grew 23 percent from $88 billion to $113.9 billion.
Sustainability claims were also discussed by Mike Mueller, director strategic marketing at WestRock. The packaging company’s web survey of 2,400 US consumers in Dec 2018 found that 44 percent of consumers get information about a company’s view on recycling and sustainability from the product packaging — only 24 percent from a company’s website.
Mueller asserted that sustainability claims need to be intuitive and easily understood, and pointed to the study findings that “Made from 100% Recycled Materials” and “Recyclable” resonated better than “Biodegradable” and “Sustainably Managed.”
How the rise of craft brands is changing the course of industry
by Mike Hower
Image credit: Public Thread
The word “craft” might conjure images of beer brewed in garages or other small-scale breweries. But what about craft coffee, clothing or even flowers?
As consumers increasingly prioritize locally made products, an abundance of community-focused social entrepreneurship has emerged. Industries which thought themselves safe from disruption have found themselves, well, disrupted by so-called “craft” brands. However despite their burgeoning success, these rising stars face the challenge of scaling safely while retaining their craft identity.
This breakout session featured Public Thread founder Janay Brower; David Myers, founder of Mighty Good Coffee; and Steven Dyme, co-founder & CEO of Flowers for Dreams; who discussed such issues as living wages, traceable supply chains and business growing pains.
Brower said that many consumers today take for granted cheap clothing, which comes at a high cost for the workers who produce it.
“The only reason we can have a $5 t-shirt is because labor was squeezed,” Bower said. “We make sure that having a living wage is at the core of what we do.”
On the subject of supply chain, Myers mentioned how consumers don’t always think about where their products come from, and craft brands can help reconnect them.
“We take coffee for granted, and it’s hard for people to follow the path from a Kenya or Ethiopia to the shelf,” he said.
Mighty Good Coffee addresses this by making sure the coffee it sells has a clear chain of custody, which is communicated to customers.
What happens when a craft brand grows? They face many of the same challenges as larger brands. After all, every major corporation began as a craft brand of sorts.
One of the biggest impediments is finding qualified labor. Brower said her company works to address this by supporting partnerships with educational institutions for workforce development to create employee pipelines.
Another big issue is maintaining fair employee profit sharing as the company scales. Many mission-driven craft brands are Certified B Corporations, but the costs of growth can make it difficult to share the spoils.
“You have to make money before you give money,” Dyme said. “You have to operate in the world as it is, not how you want it to be.”
The key takeaway was that we currently live in the Wild West of craft brands, and the best path forward is by learning through trial-and-error while staying focused on the effort of using business innovation to address social problems.
Little Miss Flint: Youth activism borne out of crisis
By Hope Freedman
Monday evening’s opening plenary kicked off with Mari Copeny, better known as "Little Miss Flint," who drew national attention to the 2016 water crisis in her community of Flint, Michigan — at 11 years old, she is by far the youngest change-maker to ever grace the SB stage.
Copeny and other Flint residents have been among the 780 million people in the US and around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water. Through the eyes of her then-8-year-old self, Copeny shared her ‘concerns’ at the time — including swimming, bubble baths and lemonade — before the city’s water source was changed to the less costly Flint River in 2014 and pumped out lead-contaminated water.
“When you’re 8 years old, water is the last thing on your mind. That is, until you notice the water isn’t quite right — it looks muddy and has a funny smell to it. When you take a shower, your skin is itchy and has a rash so bad that it really, really hurts,” she recounted.
The water was so corrosive that it eroded automobile parts at the nearby General Motors factory.
Nearly 100 residents became critically ill, and 12 people lost their lives after drinking the contaminated water. Copeny recounts the residents’ outrage: “Politicians had lied to us and the media had lied to us. We were stuck in a real-life nightmare.”
Copeny refused to feel helpless and watch as her family and friends suffered during this devastating crisis: The energetic and optimistic 8-year-old organized regular bottled-water distribution events for her fellow Flint residents. When her 2016 letter to President Obama imploring him to witness the water crisis in her community resulted in a presidential visit, Copeny then realized that she had a tremendous opportunity to help solve the problem.
“When I heard that President Obama not only received my letter but was coming to Detroit to meet me, I knew I had a bigger platform.”
Making the point that everyone can make a difference, Copeny has continued to advocate tirelessly for all of the children in Flint — raising more than $350K via her social networks. Namely, she has championed the distribution of over 15,000 backpacks filled with school supplies, a Summer Bash party with donated bikes and scooters, and fundraising to screen the recent Black Panther movie to underprivileged children.
Copeny passionately advocated for her generation, exclaiming to the audience: “Give us a seat at the table. Don’t make us stand on a table to be heard. Listen to what we have to say. If you are in a position to amplify our message, do it. Don’t just support us on social media and share our posts. Really get behind us and support us.”
And, Copeny said, don’t be surprised to see her on the Presidential ticket in 2044!
Allbirds finds the ‘sweet spot’ on entertaining while educating on sustainability
by Mike Hower
Allbirds' Julie Channing | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
In her Monday evening keynote, Allbirds VP of Marketing Julie Channing told attendees about how the company follows through on its mission to make “better things in a better way.”
It’s no secret that the footwear and apparel industries have created many social and environmental challenges. Each year, more than 20 billion pairs of shoes are produced annually, Channing said, with most ending up in landfills. Meanwhile, the footwear and apparel industry emits the same amount of carbon as that generated by the entire European Union.
Allbirds credits much of its success to tapping into the emerging cultural shift toward casual clothing. And while sustainability is what drives the company, comfort and design also influence its decision-making.
“It’s true that sustainability is at the core of all we do, but what sets us apart is that we believe that sustainability, comfort and design are not mutually exclusive; and we can make products that address all three,” Channing said.
Its focus on creating the market’s most comfortable shoes using the best sustainable materials is why Allbirds considers itself to be a materials innovation company more than a footwear company.
This emphasis on sustainability also helps Allbirds tell a compelling story. “Sustainability offers a treasure trove of storytelling opportunities,” she said.
One Allbirds campaign, “Meet Your Shoes,” focused on educating consumers about the materials going into their favorite pair of sneakers, to get people thinking about what goes into their shoes.
“Our job is turning the idea of sustainability into something that is fun and not intimidating — finding the sweet spot between educating and entertaining,” Channing said.
Inspiring consumer desire and demand for a circular economy
by Melissa Radiwon
Oft-discussed here at SB is the role of brands in shifting consumer behavior from our current, linear, take-make-waste model to a circular model. Science is setting the foundation by identifying and developing systems, supply chains and sourcing; consumer influence will scale the shift to a circular world through stories, experiences and culture.
“We need to view the circular economy not as a sacrifice, but as a true alternative,” said Briana Quindazzi, head of strategy for BBMG.
Quindazzi believes consumer behavior is at a tipping point — with findings from the recent Pull Factor Project indicating consumers are donating/reselling goods, purchasing products with recyclable content and reusing/repairing products. However, there is still a disconnect with waste — which represents an opportunity to show consumers how to get involved on an individual basis.
Apparel brand Eileen Fisher realized this back in 2009, when it launched its take-back program. Customers can drop off their used Eileen Fisher clothing to any of its stores and receive a $5 coupon. Clothing in near-perfect condition is resold; any clothing with damage is remanufactured or fiber-to-fiber mechanically recycled.
“The customer is the key focus of our program,” said Carmen Garna, designer at Eileen Fisher Renew. “The program doesn’t work without the customer. It creates loyalty; they are contributing to a larger story.”
Lisa Boyd, senior director corporate responsibility at Target, had similar consumer-centric views with Target’s car seat take-back program. Customers can drop off their used child car seat for recycling and receive a discount coupon toward a new one. When its pilot launched in 2016, customer response was strong and provided proof of concept that this service was meeting a need.
Boyd admitted that the program can be challenging — having to invest in partnerships, infrastructure and solutions to responsibility break down and reuse the materials. But providing the service enables Target to remove friction from its customers’ lives.
Service is an area that may get overlooked when talking circular economies; however, Shalma Bhalia — pre-sales consultant at Cisco — was keen to point out that technology can be a great tool in making progress toward circularity.
Cisco creates technology to improve operations to reduce its customers’ carbon footprint, designs circular products and offers repair services — creating a circular ecosystem.
Businesses can inspire their customers through programs that meet an individual need that also hits on an environmental benefit. Boyd stressed the need to not only engage the customer, but to create a story that resonates internally with employees — creating the culture and movement from within, as well.
What is on the horizon? Rental business models, modularity and expanding/scaling to reach more customers.