On Tuesday, BBMG co-founder Raphael Bemporad hosted the second morning’s plenaries at SB ’15 London. He began by highlighting the transitionary power of sustainable brands.
“As we begin the conversation today, I’d like us to think about the privileged position we occupy as a force for societal and market transformation,” he said. “We are uniquely placed: We can harness the emotional power of brands to convey stories and to channel aspirations, but we also embody sustainability — we’re system thinkers, we’re innovators. When we bring these two things together, we have the power to shape culture and shape the market.”
Inviting brands to initiate that journey, Bemporad explained how sustainable businesses can leverage the five human aspirations that are increasingly defining consumers’ identity, priorities and behaviours.
Illustrating his point, Claudia Suárez-Gapp, Public Development & Sustainability Lead for Nielsen, then presented delegates with the ‘sustainability imperative.’: “Sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive,” she remarked. “The success of your business depends on the health of the community in which it operates.
“How can we prove this? Because In the past year alone, sales of consumer goods from brands which demonstrate a commitment to sustainability have grown more than 4 percent globally, while those without grew less than 1 percent.”
Consumer expectations and purchasing drivers continue to change, she explained. “66 percent of consumers now say they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, up from 55 percent in 2014, and 50 percent in 2013.”
“Major faith communities are speaking up about sustainability in a powerful way,” he said. “In June, the Pope issued his encyclical, challenging everyday Catholics to get involved in the conversation around sustainability. Independently, Islamic, Buddhist and Jewish leaders around the world have all issued their own equally powerful statements this year.
“Why is this relevant? Because even though in Europe there is a perception is that religion is dying, globally the facts show otherwise. They show that the only group that is shrinking as a percentage of world population are those who have no religious affiliation.”
With this in mind, Izzo outlined the potential power that religion has to shape consumer behaviour on a global scale. “What would happen,” he asked, “if following the emissions scandal, buying from Volkswagen became a sin?
“The sustainability community is often at great pains to stress that corporate responsibility is not a moral mandate,” he continued, “but increasingly that clashes with consumer perceptions. VW had a moral mandate — consumers felt that they should not have lied about something so important to the future of our children.”
A strong ideological stance could actually be incredibly positive for sustainability, he contended: “Think about the dedication Apple commands. Perhaps our movement could use a little religious fervour.”
Next, Paul Chong, Director of IBM’s Watson Group, considered how recent evolutions in market insight technology might empower businesses to tackle pressing societal problems. Chong explained that Watson is an IT platform that can analyse large amounts of unstructured data, processing natural language, grammar and context to draw evidence-based conclusions.
“We’re seeing a shift away from programmed-in intelligence, towards training the capacity for independent knowledge,” he said.
What are the implications for sustainable business? “When Watson took part in the “Jeopardy” quiz show, it read 200 million pages but was still able to respond in three seconds,” Chong reported. “Think how we could apply this technology to medicine — perhaps by assisting an oncologist to match one of 3,000 breast cancer treatments to a patient?
“When you are able to quickly provide business leaders with knowledge based on bulk evidence, audits of regulations and appraisals of environmental risk, then you begin to provide opportunities for truly informed decisions,” he continued. “When you get more informed decisions, you start to see the right decisions being made.”
Next, Tom Szaky, founder of TerraCycle, shared the company’s progress in harnessing social action to boost upcycling efforts. He explained how the brand is empowering and incentivising consumers through its ‘Brigades’ programme, which provides small, flat-pack recycling points for hard-to-recycle waste. Communities can attach a postage label to these recycling points and post waste to one of TerraCycle’s range of upcycling partners, receiving charity donations for a community cause of their choice.
Szaky highlighted the growing resonance that recycling & upcycling efforts have with modern consumers. “Cigarette butts are the largest components of littering in cities,” he reported. “When TerraCycle trialled cigarette recycling points in lieu of normal cigarette bins on city streets, we found that associated litter decreased by 90 percent within a 10 metre radius, and people actively started picking it up.”
The next speaker, social media celebrity Prince Ea (born Richard Williams) made an exciting contrast to the session’s business perspective. A self-styled ‘Inspiration Artist,’ Ea presented his moving and evocative video, “Dear Future Generations: Sorry,” which apologises for inaction over climate change. The viral film has been watched by more than 94 million viewers across the world.
Prince Ea explained that in common with the faith communities referenced earlier, celebrity culture is a communication channel that can help sustainability reach beyond the present audience: “It is absurdly easy, yet entirely inconsequential to preach to the choir. We need ways to reach beyond this bubble.”
What lessons can the sustainability community take from celebrity culture?
- “Communicate complex topics simply.” Ea said.
- “Embody what you say — what comes from the heart, reaches the heart.”
- “Frame things positively. Martin Luther King never said, ‘I have a nightmare.’”
Finally, author Freya Williams introduced her new book Green Giants, and questioned what underpins the success of ‘the world’s first billion-dollar sustainable brands.’
“’Sustainable’ brands that reach the billion-dollar mark have a certain mystique,” she said. “GE’s Ecomagination programme has generated $28 billion over the last year. It has generated so much over the last 10 years that if it were a stand-alone company it would qualify for the Fortune 100.”
What are the common factors that unite the success of green giants such as GE Ecomagination, Tesla, Chipotle and Unilever? “An iconoclastic leader and disruptive innovation” she said. “Also, paradoxical though it might seem, they also share a purpose beyond profit.
“Green Giants have sustainability built in, not bolted on,” she continued, “and they target mainstream consumers, not just the ‘super green’.”
But perhaps most importantly, she explained, they embody a new behavioural contract of transparency, responsibility and collaboration. “They recognise their behaviour is their brand.”