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Dear SB Vanguard:
What Are the Hottest Types of Know How to Watch This Year?

This is the latest in a series of posts in which we will poll our global community of business leaders and practitioners — the “SB Vanguard” — on a variety of issues pertinent to the evolving sustainable business landscape.

For SB, the theme for 2015 is How Now. With that in mind, which leading-edge, practical tactics and tools do you expect to shine in 2015? What do you think are the hottest types of know-how to watch this year?

Here are a few of the responses ...

As with all things marketing, these days attention is the ultimate commodity. It’s not just about content (getting the right story), it’s about context — getting the right story tailored for the right environment — which will lead us to winning new hearts and minds. This means that we need to create and keep creating multiple executions of our stories to give ourselves the best chance of breaking through the clutter.

A Data-Driven Approach to Crafting Messaging That Matters

Join us as Eastman and Herbal Essences share insights from their packaging partnership that leverages molecular recycling to keep waste out of landfills while authentically connecting with consumers on sustainable behaviors — Tuesday, Oct. 17, at SB'23 San Diego.

This will require smart agency, PR and media planning partners to help brands and businesses know how to meet their audiences in different ways.

As sustainable brands become more mainstream and an expectation of consumers versus a nice-to-have, companies will need to double-down on authenticity, yet remain humble with their values. Brands will need to be radically transparent and weave that transparency into all communications — doing it during the ideation process will be key. At the end of the day, consumers know that every brand can’t be everything. I’ve always believed that leaders need to identify one core mission and do it very well. Latching on to this year’s hottest sustainable trend will not help your business grow beyond the next big thing.

Neil Grimmer
CEO & co-founder, Plum Organics

My big "how now" has to do with sustainability and the workforce, particularly regarding artificial intelligence/big data and automation. The more AI replaces people's jobs, the more we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Where do CEOs/leaders draw the line in automation? Machines are cheaper and more productive than people in many jobs and will continue to be that way. Eventually business culture needs to make a choice — profit and productivity (GDP) or a human workforce.
  • If people are replaced, the big question (beyond how do they pay their bills) is how do they find purpose? Our work brings us meaning. However, by utilizing positive psychology, people can pursue actions that increase their wellbeing today to provide a basis for human meaning no matter what happens with automation.

John C. Havens
Founder, The H(app)athon Project and author, Hacking H(app)iness


For me there are 2 topics in 2015 that will take off and hopefully dramatically improve the scale of our sustainability efforts:

— Thomas Odenwald
Senior Vice President & Chief Strategist, SAP

From our perspective, I’d say:

  • Remanufacturing of high-value goods starts to make the circular economy more of a reality — automotive will be a key sector. We have a new report coming up on this in the next few months.
  • More businesses to start investigating renewable energy strategies — following the early adopters that have demonstrated success (e.g. Walmart, IKEA, Microsoft, Apple). This is partly down to proven economic benefits, but supported by maturing industry capabilities and improving regulatory frameworks.
  • Smart technology and big data helps improve the efficiency of new products and services. The Internet of Things starts to make a real difference in logistics and buildings performance.
  • Supply chain collaboration and engagement continues to be a hot topic, but with mixed results. The most effective model will probably involve enlightened self-interest creating the business case for large corporates to secure better products and long-term suppliers (some of the best examples will be in improving smaller agricultural suppliers).
  • Environmental accounting and sustainability reporting moves more into the mainstream, particularly accelerated by the introduction of the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive, though still no clear consensus on which standards or frameworks to use for reporting.
  • Product environmental footprinting and labelling to grow in popularity, especially in B2B or B2G sectors, where sustainability is incorporated into procurement policies. Businesses in developing countries will become increasingly involved, as they try to sell into developed markets, or work with large corporates that prefer more sustainable suppliers. We’re working on nationally appropriate schemes in Mexico, Taiwan, Brazil and Malaysia, with more in the pipeline to be announced this year.

— Jamie Plotnek
Corporate Communications Manager, The Carbon Trust @JamiePlotnek

A few top-of-mind ideas ...

  1. Goal-setting tools, particularly around carbon. My database is one source of information about the kinds of goals companies are setting, but there will be more interest in setting big, visionary, and science-based goals now. So tools like WWF's 3% calculator and Autodesk's C-FACT will help companies as well.
  2. Transparency will grow. Demands for more information from suppliers in particular, with more specific data-driven questions about their operations. So that's a tactic more than a specific tool.
  3. Engagement. I think there will be increasing interest in tools and tactics that help companies connect their employees to a larger vision or the sustainability agenda. WeSpire is one great example of a tool that companies are adopting.

— Andrew Winston
Strategy advisor and author, The Big Pivot


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