Collaboration
'If You Want to Go Far, Go Together':
Brands Tell Tales of Collaborating to Activate Purpose

Day three of SB’16 San Diego got underway with Mark Lee, Executive Director of SustainAbility, mapping the past decade since the start of Sustainable Brands — from Hurricane Katrina and General Electric’s launch of ecomagination in 2005, to Unilever’s launch of its Sustainable Living Plan in 2010 and the United Nations’ Rio+20 Conference in 2012. The morning’s plenaries then went on to flesh out details on the “activating purpose” groundwork that was laid on Monday and Tuesday.

Next, David Denholm, CEO of Kashi, spoke about how his company is scaling access to organic food within the reality that less than 1 percent of farmland in the U.S. is certified organic, despite the continued rise in demand for organic foods since the the late 1990s. Tapping into Kashi’s inventive spirit, the company has undergone a journey to find how farmers in its supply chain can transition to organic. “We can’t do this alone; we have to do this together,” Denholm said. Through the process, the company learned that transitioning to organic farming is challenging, primarily due to the need for significant investment and an average of three years required to be eligible for USDA organic certification. In response, Kashi has developed a “certified transitional” label, a third-party accredited protocol that recognizes and rewards farmers during the three-year transition period when they are working towards organic certification. This new label not only helps increase transparency for consumers, it helps support the growth of organic agriculture.

Continuing the thread of using your products’ powers for good, Kathleen Dunlop, Global Brand Director at Unilever, then shared how Vaseline is helping to heal people living in environmental crisis or disaster. As part of the Vaseline Healing Project, a partnership with Direct Relief, the company donates more than 1 million jars a year and takes dermatologists to places in need around the world. Dunlop reviewed the lessons they’ve learned through this project, such as the importance of knowing why to get involved in a purposeful project, as well as the significance of staying focused, finding and being a great partner, verifying impact, telling the stories and being humble.

Devon Leahy, Director of Sustainability and Social Innovation at Etsy, then shared the company’s journey toward transparency, sustainability and community engagement over the past few years. As a launch pad for creative businesses, Etsy strives to integrate a local feel in all of its operations, and the company’s recent opening of a new office space in Brooklyn is a reflection of those values. With locally sourced food, art, and furniture throughout the new space, plus rooftop solar combined with net metering sourced through community solar, the company is demonstrating its values through how it’s running its business.

Next, Bert Van Son, founder & CEO of Mud Jeans, then shifted to the topic of scaling support for new circular business models. In addition to using 70 percent organic cotton, the jeansware company does not use leather labels on its products. It has also created the concept of the “leased jean,” by which every month a customer pays €7.5 for 12 months, after which customers can return the jeans for new ones. The old jeans are then repaired and sold as vintage jeans; the yarn from some old jeans is also deconstructed and used to create new sweaters. Mud Jeans’ “Home Try” program, in which customers can try on jeans by mail before purchase, is also pushing consumer-focused innovation in the apparel space.

Alejandro Zapata Arango, Executive Director of Portafolio Verde, then shared one city’s remarkable story of purpose-driven resilience and renaissance. Within a context of economic and political strife, Medellin, Colombia started to activate its purpose to transform itself in the early 1990s to become the renewed city it is today. Through strong public-private alliance, a powerful entrepreneurship ecosystem, resilient citizens, volunteers, and hope, the city is now experiencing a renaissance. A new public transportation system, public spaces that enable community connections, a focus on education, and the creation of the city’s office of innovation are products of this shift.

To close the morning’s session, a panel featuring Jeff Mendelsohn, founder of New Leaf Paper; Kristi Chester Vance, Deputy Director of STAND; Jean Bennington Sweeney, VP of Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability of 3M; and Michael Chenard, Director of Corporate Sustainability of Lowe’s discussed how brands, first nations, NGOs and the Canadian Government came together to reach a historic deal to protect 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest from logging. The panelists agreed that a huge takeaway from the experience was the importance of pushing through the discomfort of addressing difficult challenges to find common ground, build trust and collaborate – a lesson that can surely be applied across sustainable business.

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