Business Case
Danone CEO Directs Brands to ‘Be Bold or Die’

SB'19 Paris opened with a powerful statement from Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber, which in large part set the tone of the discussions for the week ahead. With remarks that were as refreshing as they were bold, Faber outlined how his company is championing being a brand for good.

Last week saw the first-ever Sustainable Brands conference happen in Paris, with 2,000+ attendees from across Europe and beyond gathering to inspire, innovate and educate one another. The conference opened with a powerful statement from Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber, which in large part set the tone of the discussions for the week ahead. Faber urged brands to either “be bold or die.” He touched on all of the planetary challenges we face, and assured everyone it would be a certain death for our species, if business cannot rally and change. He challenged companies to “set a bold purpose and then consistently act to deliver on it.”

In comments that were far-ranging, and while taking questions, Faber explained his stance on several critical topics; beyond his opening statement here are four more key takeaways:

1. The role of brands

When asked what role brands play, he stated, “Brands are the focal point for gathering; they are places for our stories, our hearts, our minds, our ideas — it is where all can gather and take root.”

He continued: “Brands are not exclusively about making a profit, either; they need to prove themselves to be useful, too.” Faber then went on to explain that by creating brands with stories that touch our hearts and minds, we can nudge people into more sustainable behaviors.

2. Acknowledging imperfection

Faber emphasized that with change comes learning, and that imperfections will surface. He explained, “I am not perfect, I know my teams will not be perfect and an organization can never be perfect; we need to get ok with saying that.” Faber went on to explain that with constantly trying harder and working harder, progress can be made, but that underpinning it is the fact that “we need to be ok with our own vulnerability.”

3. Unimagined influence

Faber urged employees to not underestimate their sphere of influence, no matter how large or small their companies are — his insight was that your influence can never be fully measured or known. He shared a story of being inspired by Interface CEO Ray Anderson years ago, when he was posted out in China and searching for a sustainable packaging solution. He explained that even though the company operated in a completely different category, “The CEO’s vision was so bold, it inspired me — I thought if he can aim this high, so can I. This experience is what began my journey in sustainability.”

4. A process to create change

When asked what the process was by which Danone was able to empower employees to create change within the organization, Faber admitted with a smile that this is still a work in progress. Instead, he explained Danone encourages employees to become change agents and to consistently disrupt convention. “We really do not have a defined process; we simply say again and again: ‘Disrupt.’ We encourage change in all forms — change in our teams, change in our agencies, etc.”

In summary, with remarks that were as refreshing as they were bold, Faber outlined how his company is championing being a brand for good — for its employees, for consumers and for the world at large.

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