SB'24 San Diego is open for registration. Register early and save!

Brand Leaders, Visionaries Gather to Help Sustainability Practitioners ‘Recenter & Accelerate’

This week at SB’22 San Diego, over 1K sustainability practitioners have converged to share insights, tools, inspiration and opportunities for collaboration with the goal of building a regenerative future for all. On opening night, luminaries from a variety of disciplines reminded attendees the importance of taking a breath and opening your mind.

The triple threat of the pandemic, climate change, and systemic social injustice is a reckoning for business … and an unprecedented opportunity. A critical mass of public support for social and environmental progress set the context for thousands of participants in the SB’22 San Diego opening night plenary, which dove into how businesses must accelerate the journey toward a regenerative future — but first, by slowing down.

This year, the United Nations met for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, but it was anything but a joyful reunion. Against a backdrop of catastrophic climate change and the existential threat to democracy the world over, it was not light table fare for the dabbling starry-eyed sustainability beginner.

Changemakers, freedom fighters, and justice seekers are standing up to emboldened voices from the right, trying to hold on to the old-world order. How can we maintain hope and motivation in the face of inertia — or, even worse, regression?

By recentering and accelerating.

Vincent Avanzi & Virginie Helias | Image credit: Sustainable Brands

Humanity's toolbox has two tools all should reach for regularly: Improved mindsets to better leverage knowledge and collective experience for a better future. After a calming and moving opening by poet Vincent Avanzi and Procter & Gamble's Virginie Helias set the tone for the keynotes to come, Bill McDonough — co-author of the groundbreaking book, Cradle to Cradle and Chief Executive at McDonough Innovation — reminded the packed plenary hall that nature doesn’t have a design problem; people do. Humanity must use nature as a mentor. Nature is tolerant, regenerative and hopeful — a direct contradiction to the extractive, winner-takes-all model of modern capitalism and our fundamentally flawed approach to the way we design most things.

“I hear people use language that frightens children,” McDonough said. “We tell our children we're designing for the end of life.”

He also drove home the foolishness of the business world’s focus on achieving “net zero” — which is not only woefully inadequate for the enormity of the calling, it essentially means humanity gives the next generation nothing. McDonough called for intergenerational stewardship that excites, recenters, restores and regenerates within the limits of a shared planet. He asserted that we must also change our vernacular, as "sustainability" means more of the status quo — the planet and its inhabitants need restoration; and that can only happen through regenerative leadership.

Jo Confino | Image credit: Sustainable Brands

For leadership coach, journalist and Zen mindfulness practitioner Jo Confino, “good” stems from how people show up.

“It's not what we say that's important,” he said. “It's not what we do that's important, nor the thoughts we have that's important; it’s how we show up in the world and embody presence, because that's what people trust.”

If people can't make peace with their own suffering, how can they care about the suffering of the world? Confino asked. Even amidst the sustainability movement, those trying to save the world often behave in the same ways that created the problems — seeking positions of honor and prestige.

To borrow the title of his podcast, “The way out is in” — and the way in is to recognize suffering. Through addressing and learning to move through our own pain comes the potential for regeneration. He closed by reminding us that, while the issues we’re facing feel (and are) urgent, a frantic approach to addressing them won’t serve us — we must embrace the theme of this year’s event and slow down to recenter, in order to accelerate.

Janine Benyus & KoAnn Skrzyniarz | Image credit: Christian Yonkers

Biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus continued the theme as she recounted the story of her decades-long journey toward restoring her once-degraded ranch land in Montana. What she and many others have done in natural landscapes, she and her teams at Biomimicry 3.8 and the Biomimicry Institute now support the business world in applying the genius of nature and its self-healing systems to their operations.

A consciously built world is one thing, but biomimicry leads to an entirely different way of thinking: Rather than the business world’s current, myopic focus on reducing impacts on carbon or water, for example, our approach should be about healing and regenerating whatever landscape, supply chain or other system that we touch.

“The shift is for us to become a generous species,” she said.

Dr. Christian Busch | Image credit: Christian Yonkers

But regeneration and other ways we measure success don’t happen by accident: The most successful people intuitively cultivate a sense of “good luck” — what author and NYU professor Dr. Christian Busch calls a serendipitous mindset and approach to leadership.

“Serendipity is about making accidents meaningful, and creating more meaningful accidents,” he said.

He shared examples of how people can be put in the same situations yet experience different outcomes, based on their perceptions. Looking for and expecting serendipity is key in creating regenerative experiences from the doldrums of daily life. The most meaningful conversations, Busch said, can come from unexpected events such as spilling coffee on a stranger and turning a potentially embarrassing moment into an opportunity to connect and explore new ideas and perspectives.

Cultivating serendipity is the difference between making that spilled coffee a source of embarrassment and a source of transformation. Busch encouraged attendees to explore this open mindset and bring it to the business of saving the world.