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Purpose-Driven Partnerships Helping Brands Ratchet Up Promises, Create Shared Value

Panels and workshops at Brand-Led Culture Change explored how brands are forging creative partnerships to increase their positive impacts on a number of fronts.

The 'a-ha' moments continued this week at Brand-Led Culture Change — where we heard how more brands, NGOs, retailers and more are nudging more sustainable purchasing decisions, measuring the efficacy of social-impact programs and pursuing partnerships that create shared value for both brands and communities.

How Walmart collaborates for sustainable innovation

Image credit: Walmart

Another Monday morning workshop kicked off with moderator Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra, asking attendees to reflect on which sustainable behavior they can begin implementing into their daily lives. Addressed as ‘eco sins’ stakeholders can confront to live more sustainably, the room went around and shared key examples from SB’s 9 Sustainable Behaviors that resonate across many stakeholders — including preventing food waste, switching to more renewable energy, and purchasing sustainably made consumer goods. Attendees quickly realized that while we all wish to live up to our values and stay committed to them, outside factors can often get in the way of this commitment — hence, the pesky intention-action gap when it comes to adoption of more sustainable behaviors.

The session then proceeded with insights from professionals across Walmart’s Marketing and Sustainability departments — Christopher Kreutzner (Senior Counsel of Sustainability & ESG), Marco Reyes (Senior Director of Sustainability), and Courtney Killingsworth (Marketing Planning & Strategy, Brand & Reputation). The three panelists shared how they work together across departments to ensure that business goals can be met while prioritizing people and planet.

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For example, Reyes uses his subject matter expertise to identify where Walmart can make an impact and scale that impact across the value chain. Killingsworth uses her influence to advocate for the voice of the customer; and Kreutzner ensures that Walmart mitigates risk while being able to achieve its sustainability targets. More and more consumers report wanting to make sustainable choices in their purchasing habits, and Walmart can show them where to start. Recently, Walmart launched its Built for Better initiative — a collaboration across functional teams that allows customers to add three criteria to their purchase decisions: For you, For communities, For the planet.

The panelists highlighted the cost of inaction and how crucial it is to understand different perspectives to create buy-in amidst competing priorities. Reyes admitted that nobody has all the answers, for the solution is not binary; he pointed out that friction between goals is good as it sharpens each other with the right set of values. He went on to say we are all making each other sharper towards a common goal.

Workshop attendees then engaged in a speed round of making a pitch on sustainable behavior — encompassing the behavior itself, three barriers that may be in the way, and three benefits that will overcome these barriers. Pitches included examples from solar energy and sustainable packaging to prompting more thoughtful consumption by embedding nature images inside snack wrappers.

The session concluded with all three panelists highlighting the importance of everyone in an organization being able to be part of solutions. The Walmart team said the retailer aims to include everyone in the conversation, from all lived experiences; and through their collaboration on sustainability goals, hopes to become an example of how to effectively do so.

Elevating the ‘S’ in ESG: Building culture, measuring impact and how to get things done

Image credit: Quang Nguyen Vinh

Today’s brands are expected to be authentic and transparent, and must find ways to manifest these as KPIs to achieve business goals. A Monday afternoon panel discussed the challenges in successfully executing against social social-impact goals and highlighted what brands can do now to build internal buy-in, shape more impactful social initiatives, and measure the value for the company and external stakeholders.

Michelle Waring, Steward for Sustainability and Everyday Good at Tom’s of Maine, said the company approaches ‘S’ by grounding it in transparency and commitment. The company has recently looked at its role as a heritage environmental brand that was founded as a business for good. 50 years later, the space has changed: Now, putting people at the center is key to an effective sustainability strategy, and is necessary to transition environmentalism away from a predominantly white-centric pursuit to one that engages the most vulnerable and efficacious stakeholders — such as BIPOC communities, frontline and fenceline communities, etc.

Kevin Wilhelm of Point B pointed out that the sentiment behind movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, etc have always existed; but recent highly publicized events have spurred brands to make grandiose statements. Three years later, though, most brands haven’t followed through — and consumers have noticed. They are demanding follow-through, and transformative brands are serving it up by evolving traditional “S” approaches (philanthropic initiatives, etc) to tying social-impact outcomes to the success of the brand.

Spoiler alert: This is good for business, because consumers reward companies that walk their talk on these issues.

“As you start expanding and adding in other social components and bringing in environmental components and climate justice, all of a sudden you’ll have new opportunities and new solutions,” Wilhelm said. “So, we can flip it from ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do that’ to ‘look at this amazing opportunity.’”

Empower Co as taken a whole new approach to climate action by rewarding women for their contributions. In trying to solve the climate crisis, “what I find is that one of the most important cogs in the wheel is the ‘S’ part, the social impact part — particularly, that of women,” said Rachel Vestergaard, CEO and founder of Empower Co — whose W+ Standard is the first globally recognized framework and metric for measuring and monetizing women’s empowerment.

Empower Co looks at empowerment as an ecosystem: Women are empowered when they have the tools, resources, access and agency to make their own choices. This ecosystem invites corporations, governments and investors to support womens’ work and recognize its value. And that value, said Vestergaard, will pay its own way.

“What you’ll notice here is that there’s no philanthropy. We don’t need donations; we need you to value the contributions of women” and understand the myriad positive ripple effects that result from working to level the playing field for women around the world.

The panelists agreed that finding tangible ways to value the contributions of all that fall under “S” will pay for itself in both the short and near term.

Shaping responsible consumption in a shifting landscape

Image credit: Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

Today’s savvier consumers expect transparency from brands. At the same time, brands are balancing complex global supply chains, where clarity on the origins and footprint of raw materials can become clouded. On Tuesday morning, Herbal Essences shared how is is evolving decades of hair care leadership amidst shifting consumer and business landscapes. Joining the session was Herbal Essences’ partner, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens — a global plant-science institution committed to protecting biodiversity.

As consumer expectations have evolved, their tolerance for tradeoffs has decreased — ex: they increasingly have high expectations for clean, responsible ingredients.

“As we evolve, the importance of ingredients will continue to be front and center,” said John Scarchilli, Director of Brand and Scientific Communications at Procter & Gamble, parent company of Herbal Essences.

Kew has been working for 20 years to develop quality plant essences and verify their origin and that the material will support its intended use. They also ensure they’re responsibly derived — that transparency and chain of custody are maintained from plant to bottle.

As more and more key plant ingredients become threatened, ensuring these essential inputs continue to thrive becomes a central business model.

“In the effort to do that, we’re increasing the use of biodiversity,” explained Monique Simmonds OBE, BSc, PhD, Deputy Director of Science at Kew. “If we can have a greater diversity of plants being used in products like Herbal Essences, that can support the local communities that are looking after those [plants and habitat].”

This in turn prevents biodiverse lands from being deforested to make way for ranching or farming while still providing a source of income for people stewarding the land. Simmonds foresees an increase in diversification of plants used in consumer products — and with it, deeper partnerships with governments, growers and other partners to help protect biodiversity.

“Ingredients are going to continue to be front and center,” Scarchilli said. “Where they’re from, what they’re for, and how they’re sourced responsibly is moving to protect biodiversity all over the world.”

And no one brand or company can achieve this alone — which is where partnerships such as Herbal Essences-Kew’s come in.

“These programs work because they create value for all partners,” Scarchilli said. “Investing back into those communities helps to sustain the supply.”

Co-creating the journey to net-positive printing

Image credit: Perfect Daily Grind

In another Tuesday morning session, Jose Gorbea — Global Head of Brands and Sustainability Innovation at HP Graphic Arts — detailed HP’s partnerships with German label-maker LABEL!STEN and climate-action platform One Tribe to advance digital printing practices that not only reduce the environmental impacts associated with conventional printing but also create shared value.

For HP’s part, Gorbea described how the company is now using water-based inks that contain no hazardous air pollutants and meet stringent requirements for human health and the environment, and how the company’s corrugated packaging has now achieved Ecologo Certification.

LABEL!STEN CEO Frank Plechschmidt explained how personalization of product packaging — such as printing the faces of a brand’s supply-chain partners (for example, the farmers who grow your coffee) directly onto packaging — helps customers make an emotional connection to the people producing their product, while seeing how their purchasing choices can have a direct positive impact on the lives of farmers in the supply chain. Plechschmidt detailed a collaboration with HP in which they digitally printed coffee farmers’ faces on packaging for an Australian brand with local suppliers — the products with people's pictures far outsold other versions of the packaging.

One Tribe CEO Ric Porteus then explained how his company of “nature fanatics” is building a set of tools and restoration projects that allow companies including HP, and their employees, to take direct action to help regenerate ecosystems. Their projects are created through partnerships with local indigenous tribes throughout the world and are typically focused on helping companies offset their Scope 3 emissions while restoring critical biodiversity.