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Less Talk, More Action:
Brand Leaders Poised for Transformative Change in 2020

Among the top 10 issues Porter Novelli identified as trending in 2019, SB Corporate Members were asked to select the one issue or trend they saw most in their work this year. They are not only ready to take action, but feel that progress and change are on the horizon.

With 2019 drawing to a close, more than 130 sustainability and Purpose leaders from across the globe convened in New York City last week at Sustainable Brands’ (SB) latest Corporate Member Meeting, to take stock of the year and the vision for 2020. The conversation was not only a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come; but perhaps more importantly, a time to collectively unpack individual challenges and universal barriers to further progress. The tone of the meeting was clear: We’ve come a long way — but our work is far from done.

At this year’s meeting, we decided to take a moment to hear from the true leaders and practitioners that are engaged in these issues, day in and day out. What are the experts and trailblazers seeing in our industry in terms of the trends of the year, but also what’s ahead?

First, let’s take stock on 2019: This year, we saw a teenage environmental activist become TIME’s Person of the Year, the term “ESG” go from sustainability lingo to mainstream talk in the corner offices of Wall Street, and employee activist walkouts become par for the course. 2019 was also the year plastics commitments were omnipresent and an emphasis on inclusivity brought innovative products and campaigns to market.

Among the top 10 issues Porter Novelli identified as trending in 2019, SB Members were asked to select the one issue or trend they saw most in their work this year. The findings were clear. Plastics taking precedence was far and away the most popular issue at 29 percent of all responses. Climate urgency took second place (18 percent), followed closely by CEO activism (16 percent) and youth movements (16 percent) — both tied in third place.

“This year, we saw many issues our space has been working on for years finally hit the mainstream,” said Sandy Skees, EVP of Innovation and Impact at Porter Novelli. “Important Purpose-driven issues are no longer relegated to the ‘green aisle’ or sustainability team, but are part of the popular lexicon and mindshare. As these issues grow in importance among customers and other stakeholders, we’ll see our collective work increase in importance and accelerate in greater force.”

Although a strong understanding of the past 365 days creates a powerful foundation to forward progress, it’s time to turn toward a new year and a new decade. When asked what issue or trends SB Members thought we’d see more of in 2020, the answers were diverse*. Some responses were succinct, focusing on one-word responses to encapsulate the year ahead, such as “awareness,” “authentic,” “action” and “results.” Other responses centered around specific issues of importance — such as “single-use plastic regulations,” “income inequality” and “diversity and inclusion.” Other answers focused more on action with terms such as “pre-competitive collaboration,” “consumer behavior change” and “employee brand advocacy.” The common thread throughout the answers provided was clear: the industry — and the collective conversation — continues to mature at breakneck speeds.

“Leadership conversations within the Sustainable Brands community are moving beyond ‘less harm,’ and are increasingly focused on how we can restore and regenerate our ecology/societal health and individual wellbeing,” states KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, CEO and founder of Sustainable Brands. “We are seeing more companies with heightened awareness of science-based goals and more powerful global leadership from the private sector, as well as the financial sector stepping up to embrace sustainable finance and ESG integration.”

As morning sessions at the SB Member Meeting drew to a close, we took the opportunity to ask one final question to the group: What one word will define the year ahead? And while responses were varied, with terms such as “grit,” “discord,” “partnership,” disruption” and “ambition” joining to form a word cloud, a handful of words rose to the top. When defining 2020, these Purpose and sustainability experts coalesced around three important terms: “progress,” “action” and “change.”

These three words are powerful, but also heartening. Purpose leaders are not only ready to take action, but feel that progress and change are on the horizon. With that, we’ll take our leave on 2019 and look forward to a year of engagement, growth — and, most importantly, transformation.

*Participants provided an open-ended response

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