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Raucous Debate, Product Innovations, Women, Biodiversity Celebrated in Sessions on SB '13 Day Three

The afternoon of day three at SB ’13 continued with more insightful discussions covering an array of timely topics.

The afternoon of day three at SB ’13 continued with more insightful discussions covering an array of timely topics.

A panel addressing the importance of sustainability in packaging — moderated by Tony Kingsbury, VP of Corporate Sustainability at ChemRisk and featuring representatives from the design, chemistry, recycling and retail sides of the issue — agreed that finding a way to minimize the impact of our consumerism is key. Julie Corbett, founder and CEO of Ecologic Brands, said that learning how to create more value in every cycle — from design to end of life — is a strong solution to divert waste from a landfill stream. BASF’s Christopher Bradlee highlighted modern chemistry’s role as an enabler for sustainability. By creating ways to minimize impact with our current packaging, including eliminating all unnecessary petroleum-based materials, creating packaging from recycled and sustainable products, and using soy-based inks for printing should be a question in the initial stages of a product.

A multidisciplinary panel — moderated by Rebecca Calahan Klein of 1% for the Planet and featuring David Bennett of National Geographic, Tyler Holm of Silk, Christian McGuigan of Participant Media, and Ted Reeve of Bonneville Environmental Foundation — celebrated the achievements of their Change the Course campaign. The campaign matches water conservation pledges from citizens with the commitment from corporate sponsors to fund the replenishment of the Colorado River. When asked by an audience member about the lasting impacts of the campaign, Reeve said that the pledges reflect a mindset shift on the part of citizens that will hopefully outlast the campaign itself. As to what the campaign has to say about fracking and other more serious threats to the water system, Bennett and others expressed hope that the campaign will lead to much-needed conversations on the topic throughout the community.

“Trends and Tremors in the Investor Landscape,” moderated by HIP Investor’s Paul Herman, explored why impact investing is gaining ground over traditional, profit-only investing. Herman said investors are beginning to see that sustainability is tied to performance and that the real job creators invest in solutions to society’s problems. As You Sow’s Conrad MacKerron proposed several key issues to be addressed in 2013 and beyond: political spending, climate change, environmental management, human rights and diversity. A major problem with many companies, MacKerron said, is that most shareholder proposals are voluntary and not binding, which means many social and environmental proposals often go without being acted upon. As an example, MacKerron cited cutting waste as a major driver of ROI — there is an estimated $11 billion of wasted packaging materials in the U.S. alone. New Resource Bank President & CEO Vincent Siciliano pointed out that we make most of our economic decisions based on short-term gain. The real trick, he said, is to find a way to reconcile short- and long-term value, so that we can flourish both now and in the future. Morgan Stanley’s Darya Allen-Attar discussed her company’s new approach of allowing investors the option of investing their money along with their values, where financial returns are still paramount but also factor in social impact.

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It was a packed house for a session on The Naked Brand: the future beyond advertising. Moderated by writer/director Jeff Rosenblum, the panel included Dara O’Rourke (GoodGuide), Jonathan Atwood (Unilever) and Joe Brewer (DarwinSF). The session discussed the ways increased transparency and co-creation of content are forcing brands to let go of the control they once had. Attendees heard many interesting provocations sprinkled throughout but one recurring theme was the idea that people respect brands that admit that they may not have all the answers related to supply chains or sustainability — as long as they are working to make improvements and communicating honestly along the way.

“Making Hay from Waste,” hosted by Solazyme, was moderated by Howie Fendley from MBDC and featured representatives from Interface, Sprint and 3M. The panelists each discussed how their respective companies are working to not only eliminate the concept of waste, but to turn it into an asset. Miriam Turner, Assistant Vice President of Co-innovation at Interface, started off by stating that the company’s project using fishing nets to make carpets is not a charitable endeavor; she explained the business is built on a not-for-loss business model, which is taking the closed loop conversation to another level. Angie Olson, Marketing Manager of the Home Care Division from 3M, explained the value of drinking tequila and how 3M is benefiting from it. Olson is known at 3M as the sponge lady as she is the brand manager for the Greener Clean sponges. The researchers of 3M France discovered that a previously discarded (and harmful to the soil) by-product of agave during the production of tequila could be used in the production of sponges. 3M has discovered a way to make sponges out of 50% agave and 23% recycled material. Darren Beck, Director of Environmental Initiatives from Sprint, talked about Sprint’s buy-back program. While Sprint’s goal to have a 90% collection rate by 2017 is aggressive, they were halfway there with a 44% collection rate last year.

Tuesday — Day 2
Wednesday — Day 3
Thursday — Day 4“This isn’t a conversation about women’s rights, but gender balance,” said Aman Singh, Editorial Director of CSRWire, who moderated the Gender Diversity & Sustainable Business Value breakout session, along with fellow trailblazers in the sustainability field Annie Longsworth, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S; Kelli McElhaney, Faculty Director of the Center for Responsible Business at Haas Business School; and Jen Boynton, Editor-in-Chief of Triple Pundit. The four led a lively co-ed discussion about the trajectory of women in sustainable business. Data presented showed that women, at present, are not accurately represented in leadership positions. “Only 17 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women on their boards,” McElhaney noted. However, she also presented findings that companies with women on their boards performed much better on ESG.

Gender diversity panel

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, there has been much controversy over whether Western manufacturers should leave the region or stay put to improve workplace conditions. And what about other developing countries — where are the biggest risks and why? What arguments are there in favor of taking this 'Bangladesh moment' as an opportunity to re-think manufacturing and supply chains, and perhaps relocate them closer to home? Bonnie Nixon, Senior Advisor at the Sustainability Roundtable, led a community discussion on the timely and pressing “Bangladesh Dilemma.” A former supply chain consultant for big brands said that auditing programs do not work — it is too easy for factories to get around regulations due to corruption and a lack of accountability. As many manufacturers operate in developing areas where the government has little or no control, so policy is irrelevant. But many businesses still claim it is not up to them to enforce labor laws – when they even exist. One participant pointed out that culture is a major factor – due to the fact that most factories are foreign-owned, there is no local interest in improving conditions. Participants agreed that it is the responsibility of U.S. retailers to collectively act, just as European ones have recently begun to. Rather than leave, U.S. brands should stay in Bangladesh and pay the price to take responsibility and fix the prevalent problems.

Are brands the problem or the solution? Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, directed this lively session in which the audience was split up into two groups to prepare a debate on this question. Eliot Metzger, Senior Associate at WRI, had two minutes to present the pro-brand stance. He stated that brands have the power of behavior change. Candela Montera, Sr. Manager of Corporate Citizenship and Maria Barr, Manager Global Sourcing Operations, from Disney Consumer Products, took the stance that brands are the problem, arguing that all brands care about is making money and want to keep their supply chains at arm’s length so they don’t have to take ownership of the inherent problems. The conversation became raucous with the group split up about 50/50. Finally, with 10 minutes left, the groups were ordered to come back to present.

Jo Confino, Executive Editor of The Guardian (described as the ‘mouthy journalist’) stood on his chair and started the argument that brands were the problem, eloquently espousing that brands are taking what is important to us and cheapening it. He argued that they just want to make money and that institutions have taken over our lives. Confino ended with loud cheers from his side of the room and his speech was a hard one to follow up. But Danielle Narveson, an SB’13 volunteer and co-founder of the Postcards App, bravely stood on her chair and successfully made the argument that brands are the solution. She said that brands have the ability to reinvent themselves and the world around them, and that this is already happening. If brands weren’t already doing this, these rooms would be empty at SB’13, she argued.

The audience then had a few minutes to rebut back and forth and after a heated debate each side had a chance to give closing arguments. Townsend then concluded the session with a ‘to be continued’ message; a few people from each side will be invited onstage to say one sentence on their side’s behalf at Thursday morning’s plenaries, and the winner will be decided. Townsend’s final message was that if we are going to make brands part of the solution, we need to have conversations like the one we’d just had.

After the mid-afternoon break, BASF’s Cristian Barcan moderated a session about key sustainability drivers throughout the value chain for agriculture and seafood, which included Sarah Lewis of The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) and Vidar Gundersen from the BioMar Group. In addition to sharing insights about BASF’s integrated lifecycle and cost analysis tool, attendees learned how BASF and BioMar used the tool to develop a more sustainably farmed salmon. Lewis then provided an overview of the work TSC is doing to create cross-sector solutions and better decision-making through the use of science-based measurement systems and hot spot analysis.

Aspirationals panel

To truly become self-aware, managing your state of mind is key to change. In her breakout, Libby Gill, author of You Unstuck, explained the importance of harnessing the power of accountability, behavior and belief. She clarified the importance to search for meaning and using hope as a leadership tool to inspire others and having multiple pathways to change “waypower.”

Meanwhile, an illuminating session on adding brand value through investments in ecosystem services and biodiversity was led by representatives from PUMA; FEMSA, the leading beverage manufacturer in Latin America; Air New Zealand; and Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service restaurant operating company, whose chains include Red Lobster and Olive Garden. The speakers discussed their companies’ different approaches to choosing and monetizing their natural capital investments: FEMSA created a Water Fund to mitigate potential water shortages in its supply chain; and Air New Zealand has partnered with the New Zealand Department of Conservation to create several biodiversity projects within their home country.

Hailey Broderick, brand manager of Sustainability for PUMA, described a key partnership with Wildlife Works to manage their REDD+ project in Kenya. Through the initiative, PUMA aims to reduce carbon emissions, improve lives of the communities living in the region and help protect area forests. In 2014, women will be an additional focus in this project.

Kim Lopdrup, Darden SVP of Business Development, spoke on the company’s commitment to sustainable lobster aquaculture. She mentioned that seafood demand was growing rapidly, but as many of the fisheries around the world were not being managed sustainably, there was a real possibility that many fisheries will collapse. “Our goal is to be the best dining now, and for generations. This forces Darden to take a long-term, sustainable approach to business,” said Lopdrup. “We’re starting with a lobster aquaculture farm, because as the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention.”

She went on to admit that this intial investment is not without some short-term challenges. “We are accepting that there will be a far longer payback, and this program will be many years into the black,” Lopdrup said. “However, the internal rate of return is very competitive.”

Candice McLeod, Mike Hower, Courtney Pankrat, Samuel Benoit, Jessica Rush and Mara Slade contributed to this report.


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