Bringing a Group to SB'24? Explore Our Special Rates for 3 or More!

SB'17 Detroit, Day 4:
Human Capital, Better Business Models, and Knowing When to Shut Up and Listen

How Detroit Can Become the Most Sustainable City in North America By Nithin Coca

Joel Howrani Heeres

It’s been an eventful week for Joel Howrani Heeres, the brand-new Sustainability Director for the city of Detroit, who welcomed over 1000 attendees at the final day plenary at SB ’17 Detroit, on what was just his fourth day on the job.

How Detroit Can Become the Most Sustainable City in North America

By Nithin Coca

It’s been an eventful week for Joel Howrani Heeres, the brand-new Sustainability Director for the city of Detroit, who welcomed over 1000 attendees at the final day plenary at SB ’17 Detroit, on what was just his fourth day on the job.

“I’m so excited to get started on mission - our ambition is to become the most sustainable city in North America,” he said.

Detroit is making a lot of progress on sustainability - and fast! In the last month, the city has opened its first streetcar line – the QLine – in 50 years, and launched a new bike-sharing network, MOGO. It also has the largest LED street lighting system in the world.

More is coming, as Heeres gets his feet wet in his new role. The city plans to have a detailed sustainability plan in the next six months and aims to take advantage of its assets - the inventive spirit of its people, over 20 acres of open space, and a now-thriving business community. He ended his call asking for attendees to partner with the city of Detroit as they go “all in on sustainability.”

Empathy as a Solution to Divisiveness

By Hope Freedman

How can a ubiquitous snack brand help build bridges between people? Drew Nannis, VP of Integrated Communications at KIND, answered that question during his keynote on Thursday morning. Since 2004, KIND has aspired for social change by inspiring kindness among consumers. Now KIND is scaling its social mission of spreading kindness through The KIND Foundation – amplifying empathetic connections among Americans. With swelling polarization constantly in the headlines, the KIND team recognized the possible dangers of the “social media filter bubble” – allowing only ideas and opinions similar to our own to infiltrate our news feeds. Nannis ties this back to KIND’s brand equity: “If we choose, social media keeps us sequestered against initial goal of spreading kindness.” Nannis stated that “5 percent of people see social media posts that differ from own worldview. This is a natural tendency but limiting and can bring contempt.”

KIND’s latest campaign, “Pop Your Bubble,” encourages consumers to expand their social media filter bubble by adding people with different views to their Facebook feed.

The "Pop Your Bubble" tool joins with individuals’ Facebook profiles to connect them with people beyond their everyday network. The KIND team believes that Facebook is the easiest entry into this conversation. Since the launch of #PopYourBubble in April, 60,000 unlikely connections have occurred – surprisingly mostly about shared interests such as food, pets and vacations.

Nannis also shared plans to evolve KIND’s mission. On the horizon are efforts to avoid stereotypes by bringing kids – primarily 8- and 9-year-olds (research shows that elementary school children are not yet fluent in the language of empathy) – together via classrooms around the globe.

Nannis then challenged the audience: “The private sector has a role to play and make things better. As corporate citizens, we should act. We are sons, daughters and coaches. At KIND, we look through this lens. Share the world through shared humanity.”

Brands as Key Allies in the Fight against Human Trafficking

by Nithin Coca

One of the world’s enduring, intractable challenges is the ongoing existence of human trafficking and modern slavery. If we are to truly achieve this week’s theme of ‘The Good Life,’ we need to ensure that this can be accessed by everyone, and that means eliminating human trafficking. Essential to a solution are businesses, whose hotels, transportation systems, or financial tools are often used by those who are trafficking people.

According to Dr. Halleh Seddighzadeh, with the Asylee, Refugee Migrant Assistance Network (A.R.M.A.N.), during her Wednesday morning plenary, it’s a problem that isn’t far away but often hits close to home.

“Anyone can be ensnared in the deep psychological trauma of sex trafficking,” she said. “Any scenario where you meet friends or someone romantically can entrap a victim.”

At a panel the following afternoon entitled A Call to Action: Brands as Key Allies in the Fight against Human Trafficking, Dr. Seddighzadeh joined three others leading the way on promoting better human rights practices in the business world. According to Gwen Migita of Caesars Entertainment, this is a relatively new topic in the corporate responsibility space - but one that more and more companies need to address.

“I liken this issue to sustainability 10-15 years ago - people are asking, ‘what are the questions to ask?’” Migita said.

The audience was looking for answers, as well, as several were looking at how they could integrate better practices to prevent their businesses from unwillingly aiding human trafficking. Brenda Shultz, who has led Carlson Rezidor’s industry-leading work on preventing sex trafficking in its properties, advised participants to look for opportunities within your company.

“You need to figure out which items are possible in your business,” she said, referring to trainings, adding language in contracts, creating a supplier code of conduct, working with sourcing departments or philanthropic arms, as potential pathways towards making a difference: “You need to find your champions within your company.”

For EY’s Brendan LeBlanc, the ultimate goal should be a shift in thinking within organizations.

“Two things have to happen,” he said. “One is a fundamental shift in businesses thinking about the risks to humans, and a due-diligence process on where might our business have an impact on the rights of people.”

The panel hoped that the inclusions of sessions on trafficking helps sparks a larger discussion among the business community - and leads to more action to prevent human rights abuses in the future.

Apple: In Pursuit of a Closed-Loop Supply Chain

By Mara Slade

Sara Chandler grew up on her family's farm making maple syrup. It was there that she learned what it meant to manage a challenging supply chain. Today, as Director of Operations and Environmental Initiatives, she is managing Apple's effort to achieve a closed-loop supply chain.

Chandler teased a new video illustrating part of the company’s process for disassembling iPhones:

And she shared more details of the tech giant’s strategy:

  • Apple's has three environmental goals — to achieve 100 percent renewable energy, pioneer safer materials, and preserve precious resources
  • 'Floatovoltaics' are a thing — and are helping Apple achieve its renewable energy strategy
  • The important thing is to start even if you don't know exactly how to get there

The Exemplary Detroit Organizations That Are Empowering Local Residents

by Melissa Radiwon

“Start somewhere, not everywhere,” stated Jeanette Pierce, executive director at the Detroit Experience Factory (DXF). Pierce is familiar with how to make an idea grow. DXF was once a grassroots non-profit that is now a program of the Downtown Detroit Partnership connecting locals and newcomers to Detroit through interactive experiential tours and resources.

Thursday morning’s session at SB’17 Detroit drove home the idea of affecting ‘The Good Life’ at any scale, and highlighted several organizations making a big difference for those in need at the local level. The key is being able to see where the need is: a vacant building with beautiful architecture aching to have a purpose instead of being an eyesore or crime magnet; disadvantaged women who yearn to become self-reliant; people displaced from their homes due to disaster or homelessness who simply want to keep warm during harsh winters; or schools that want to provide their students with tools to build a culture of health.


Bill Rains, area district VP at U-Haul, described the 2012-13 adaptive reuse project of the old Nabisco building in mid-town Detroit. Built in the Chicago school style in the 1920s, the building sat vacant for many years and was the target of vandalism and scavenger theft. Today it houses a showroom, offices and storage units, with 50 percent of the building ready for new business opportunities. The reuse of an existing building, instead of new construction, prevented tons of GHG emissions and landfill debris, as well as concrete and steel use.

“U-Haul has a long and proud history of taking unused commercial and industrial properties and turning them into productive businesses,” Rains said. “These businesses provide jobs and help to promote infill development while preserving the natural resources and land that normally are required for new construction.”

While U-Haul provided the acquisition and rehabilitation costs for the projects, it worked with several government and non-profit agencies to make the project a reality. It is that sense of collaboration, of community, that supports U-Haul’s efforts to give back to the Motor City that has been towing U-Haul trailers since 1945.

Rebel Nell

Imagine a woman so determined to work in baseball that she took a job with the Detroit Tigers without pay. Now imagine that same woman chatting with the women in her neighborhood while they gush over her French bulldog who loves belly rubs. Those neighborhood women called the COTS homeless shelter their home.

Julia Rhodes, sales and marketing director at Rebel Nell, told us the story of co-founder Amy Peterson and her drive to find a way to empower these disadvantaged women by not only providing them with a paying job, but also teaching them a skill and providing financial, legal and family support classes.

Rebel Nell, a nod to Eleanor Roosevelt, utilizes the layered graffiti pieces that have fallen or been scraped from locations around Detroit and Flint and allows free creative will to take over. The women, better known as creative designers, apply their talent and new skills to create jewelry for sale in stores and online. These women are creating beauty out of something that typically is considered worthless trash. They are keeping materials out of the landfill and strengthening the beauty of their own lives.

The Empowerment Plan

Veronica Scott, founder and CEO at The Empowerment Plan, is a native Detroiter. She grew up in a family that struggled with unemployment, addiction and homelessness. It was this upbringing that didn’t make her cringe when visiting shelters for a college class project – it inspired her.

Scott, or better known by her street name of “crazy coat girl,” started the non-profit that hires single parents from local shelters to sew the EMPWR coat, a water-resistant jacket that transforms into a sleeping bag – typically distributed to disaster victims, refugees, and the homeless. The coat is made of seconds and discontinued lots from Carhartt, upcycled automotive insulation from General Motors, and other donated materials.

“Giving a coat is a band-aid to a systemic issue of poverty and unemployment,” Scott said. “Providing a job and a living wage is a stepping stone to a career path.”

Garden Fresh Gourmet/Campbell’s

Melanie Mena, director of community engagement at Garden Fresh Gourmet, is the daughter of founders Jack and Annette Aronson. She grew up in a 700-square-foot house with seven people (and one bathroom). Her parents working tirelessly for years before they saw a profit, and as soon as they did, they were giving back to their community.

It is with that worth ethic and community respect that Mena approached Campbell’s – Campbell’s purchased Garden Fresh two years ago – and asked that they do more for the community. Campbell’s agreed and is using their Campbell’s Healthy Communities to invest in two schools - one in Ferndale, Mich. and one in Detroit – to help children live healthier lives through food and nutrition.

Mena admitted that she had to open her eyes and ears and close her month to truly listen to the needs of the schools. She could have pushed her own assumptions on the schools, but she wanted to find where the company best fit and then work on providing that solution.

Why Detroit?

Several stated that this is home – they grew up here. One pointed to the larger local organizations that can provide financial and material support, not to mention lend credibility, to a smaller project. Another raved about the loyalty the Detroit area has for one of its own. Still another highlighted the great number of projects and people that are doing great things for Detroit.

But I think Pierce said it best: “Detroit is big enough to matter in the world, but small enough where you can matter in it.”

The ROI of Purposeful Leadership, Engaging Consumers and Employees Around Sustainability

by Alex Smith

The business case for energy, water, and emissions savings is often what motivates businesses to invest in CSR, while creating a convincing ROI for less tangible aspects is still a struggle for many. In this session, panelists explored cutting-edge research focused on the new ROI of employee engagement and consumer trust.

Susan Hunt-Stevens, founder and CEO of WeSpire, summarized research that connects engagement to tangible benefits, such as a 3 percent revenue boost from a 5 percent increase in employee engagement. They found surprising and encouraging evidence that employee engagement can even carry over to customer loyalty, influencing revenue stream. She noted that often, employees don’t understand how the sustainability program at their company connects personally to them and their role. This is an opportunity area for companies to tackle in the future.

Esther Kyte from the Michigan Ross School of Business relayed several internal studies that focused on examining standout employees. This included identifying thriving employees, mapping energized employees, and use of the reflective-best-self exercise. By asking their colleagues for three stories of when the have seen them at their best, the reflective best-self exercise led employees to exhibit

  • reduced stress
  • a bolstered immune system
  • and resiliency to crisis

all of which feed into ROI.

Edelman’s Emily Chan then presented research on the agency’s 2017 Trust Barometer, which asked consumers whether they trust certain institutions. While trust this year went down across the board, according to the barometer trust for businesses was higher than for media, government, and NGOs.

A Q & A session revealed the panelists’ takes on best practices in employee engagement for ROI:

  • When examining methods of engagement, employee-to-employee communication about programs is particularly effective.
  • HR leaders should be tasked more often with providing solutions to low engagement.
  • It will be key to tell a story around employee engagement and ROI, as opposed to focusing exclusively on data, to fully inspire change.