Jeremy Osborn Christian Yonkers and Demitri Fierro
Published 9 months ago.
About a 10 minute read.
Image: Cheekbone Beauty
As Brand-Led Culture Change drew to a close, a number of insightful discussions got down to brass tacks and shared lessons learned while facing a number of nearly ubiquitous brand challenges.
Image credit: Liquid I.V.
Creating positive impact has become a staple goal across business. However, in
specific communities and the world at large, this kind of work is still
considered an added cost against corporate interests and the bottom line.
Today’s business leaders are presented with the challenge of doing well by doing
good while meeting growth goals. Companies such as Liquid
I.V. have developed a unique approach to using
business as a force for good — one where impact is the central pillar of
strategy rather than a considered piece. Liquid I.V. is doing just that by
creating real global impact through company-wide collaboration, which is leading
to both the expansion of its impact program and its growth as a company.
A Unilever company, Liquid I.V. is a unique example of innovation powered by
impact. Sean Lavin, Liquid
I.V.’s VP of Impact, shared that the team is inspired by ‘the oddest things;’ but
that it is exactly what contributes to its brand voice. Liquid I.V. aims to be
seen as a brand that cares and illustrates this through four central
pillars: product donation, sustainability, grantmaking and
confluence. The company has been driven from day 1 by its umbrella goal to
ensure universal water security by
2050 — a commendable pursuit as 26
percent of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water, with 46
percent lacking access to basic sanitation.
“You have nothing to lose, everything to gain,” Lavin said. He pointed out that
without great marketing, there is no voice to cut through the noise; Liquid I.V.
believes that great storytelling can scale its impact and communicate its
passion to a wide audience. It does this by disclosing its interim goals — such
as having 100 percent of their packaging be sustainably made by 2025 — as well
as highlighting its use of hero ingredients, which are ingredients they can form
a story around. Its
product is a prime example of this.
Join us for a transformational experience at SB Brand-Led Culture Change — May 8-10 in Minneapolis. This event brings together hundreds of brand leaders eager to delve into radical lifestyle shifts and sustainable consumer behavior change at scale. The trends driving cultural acceleration are already underway, and you can be at the forefront of this transformative movement.
Liquid I.V. wants to be a beacon for inspiring others to become active
“True impact is when you are connecting to the consumer and they are aware of
it,” Lavin said.
By providing education on how impact can be a driving force behind business
strategy and growth, Liquid I.V. strives to show consumers they can become engaged
citizens wherever they are.
As Marketing Director Maddy
Simmer concluded, “My
vision is for our lived communities to become advocates for our impact work.”
Image credit: Cheekbone Beauty
In Indigenous spaces, success means edifying both human and non-human
communities; Western language has few analogies for it. In this Tuesday
afternoon session, attendees circled around two Indigenous leaders from business
and academia to hear the vital role that Indigenous wisdom plays in fostering
harmonious relationships between all communities and uncovering ways to
integrate Indigenous knowledge systems to foster a deeper sense of stewardship,
empathy and inclusivity among brands and consumers.
“Land is an extension of myself,” said Pat
Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at Yale University. “My
identification is the land. It is the place where I live and worship. … The
reality is, the health of the people is the health of the land.”
Regeneration has always been a cultural precept as well as a moral instruction
for native peoples. Centering the land as a primacy of vocation, something to
sustain and pass on, provides a much more organic relationship similar to what
all people — white and otherwise — were originally born with.
“The thing that we worship in North America is money; and then money makes
people think they are better than other human beings,” said Jenn
Harper, founder and CEO of
Cheekbone Beauty — a cosmetics brand
centered around clean, sustainable products and telling Indigenous stories. “It
can happen to any one of us.”
Harper shared that shame related to her identity led to substance abuse in her
youth. Understanding herself and her heritage helped her heal — building an
innate relationship with land, herself, and all living things and non-living
“When you hear Indigenous say ‘all of my relations,’ they really mean
everything, because that is what it means.”
It’s an insight that could help shape the efforts of the growing wave of brands
aiming to appeal to more conscientious consumers: Human alignment with the
environment — flowing with it, through it, and of it — is one of the reasons
that all elements of the earth, from rocks to trees, are considered persons to
“[Indigenous] know that these things are all a part of us,” Gonzales-Rogers
said. “But though this is an inherently native way of looking at things, this
does not mean others are disallowed.”
Healing the separation between people and their places is one of the key
blessings that First Peoples have always provided. To begin healing,
Gonzales-Rogers and Harper invited business leaders to reexamine relationships
to the “external” world.
“It is a direct nexus to your inner being, your inner health,” Gonzales-Rogers
said. “So, the more you take care of the external being, the more you take care
of the internal.”
Empathy is essential to understanding the Indigenous experience.
The continued sufferings of many members of First People nations — as evidenced by
high rates of alcoholism and
stem from systemic deletion of Indigenous cultures and brutal, forced
“With generational trauma — with this pain and traumas passed on through my
family and ultimately on to me — we’re living with the residual, negative
effects of that system,” Harper shared. “If we can’t understand that, how in the
heck can we expect to connect with these communities?”
“You build a bridge of trust,” Gonzales-Rogers said. “You make sure your actions
are consistent with your words … Without that you cannot be doing the work.”
He also stressed the importance of companies and organizations working directly
with native communities and not third-party liaisons.
Scaling Indigenous perspectives in business requires the buy-in of investors,
consumers and personnel; and the bravery to reject the Western “winner takes
all” ideal. To be successful and meaningful, Harper concluded, business-led
initiatives must create shared value and transform entrenched systems.
Image credit: Alexander Suhorucov
Another Tuesday afternoon session centered on employee engagement and brand
The lively discussion examined different tactics that three very different
companies — Crowe LLP, MGM
WeSpire — are using to align their purpose with
their culture; and the hard work, consistency and deep listening that is
required for employees to be able to "feel the culture" instead of "voting with
their feet" and moving on, because they don't feel the company is living up to
the values it
MGM doubled down on its company culture and revisited its culture strategy
during the pandemic, including touch points such as a listening tour with employees and gaining new
executive leadership buy-in. Yonata
Rubin, MGM’s Head of
Talent, described the strategy as highly successful — leading to a
year-over-year improvement in net promoter score of 11 percent.
Crowe Sustainability and Social Impact Leader Farrell
Calabrese similarly described
the pandemic as a "leveling moment" — when everyone except frontline workers
went home and had a chance to reset the culture, and also to implement WeSpire’s
digital tool for engagement, that allowed everyone to participate. She described
how important it is to break down silos; and also to be sure that employees are
the first to hear company news, rather than hearing it through external
communications. As a professional services firm, people are Crowe’s most
material asset; making culture exceedingly important.
Image credit: Nespresso
Brand-led Culture Change wrapped with an illuminating fireside chat between
Etienne White and Stephen
Kill, Director of Advertising &
Communications at Nespresso, which dove deep into Nespresso's commitment to
transparency and authenticity as it continues to work to fulfill its brand and
sustainability promises while navigating market pressure and instances of
As consumers continue to expect more from brands regarding their social and
environmental commitments, and evolving regulations on brand
become more restrictive, the question for brand communicators is how to adapt
while maintaining a positive reputation?
Nespresso, an operative unit of
Nestlé Group, puts pressure on leadership to do more
advocacy for the consumers they serve, as both consumers and employees want to
see more of such from the brand. Kill proudly shared the various partnerships
Nespresso has conducted with mission-driven organizations including the Ali
and the Equal Justice Initiative.
White asked if the murder by police of George Floyd — which happened here in
Minneapolis, three years ago this month — was the beginning of Nespresso
realizing there is more the brand could do to combat systemic injustice. Kill
said that social issues are a key focus for Nespresso — the
company holds monthly fireside chats to discuss how pertinent issues affect
“Brands and companies are comprised of people. Listen to them. If you have the
right people, there should be some stuff you should get at a gut level,” Kill
On the topic of negative pushback Nespresso has experienced, Kill shared
instances when consumers questioned the company’s stance on certain topics. For
example, when Nespresso gave customers the option to opt out of Mother’s Day
the knee-jerk backlash accused Nespresso of “canceling Mother’s Day.” Kill
pointed out that in these cases, best practices to keep in mind are to “not
engage the trolls” and “always go back to what feels right.” While acknowledging
that Nespresso has watered down its messaging at times, Kill said regulations and
certifications can keep the brand’s accountability in check — incentivizing it
to walk its talk.
Last year, Nespresso obtained B Corp
and proudly disclosed the validation of its commitment to environmental
stewardship and social welfare — which garnered mixed reactions from
stakeholders, including other B
While Nespresso scored highest in the environment category, Kill humbly admits
that it can improve how it scores with regards to customers, which it aims to do
The company continues to partner with organizations that improve its value chain
— including the Hispanic
Federation in Puerto Rico, to
restore the country’s coffee harvest to pre-hurricane levels; as well as leading
conservation efforts in places such as Hawaii with the American Forests
Internally, Nespresso prioritizes optimizing recyclability of its coffee pods — which has
led it to create unique recycling
systems and partnerships of its
As the session drew to a close, White took final thoughts from both Kill and the
audience. Kill and White agreed that, in a “culture of constant
broadcast,” there should be a shift to a cheerleading narrative for brands on the sustainability journey — one that
encourages companies to do the right thing and stand by their
even in the face of market pressure and backlash.
As hard as brands try, they will never be able to please everyone all the time. Nespresso shows that staying committed to
the values outlined, while looking for paths to build upon those values, will
create the resiliency needed to stay the course.
Published May 31, 2023 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Jeremy Osborn is a NYC-based entrepreneur and and senior consultant with a background in marketing and communications, tech, strategy, governance, and sustainability. He holds an MA in Resources, Environment, and Sustainability from the University of British Columbia and has worked for leading brands in a wide range of industries and sectors — including food and ag, consumer goods, built environment, industrial manufacturing, energy, finance, transportation, and more.
Christian is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and outdoor junkie obsessed with the intersectionality between people and planet. He partners with brands and organizations with social and environmental impact at their core, assisting them in telling stories that change the world.
Demitri Fierro recently earned an MBA in Sustainable Solutions from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. For the last two years, he has served as Program Manager for the Consultancy Shadowing Program, as well as sustainability consultant for a variety of clients. Determined to apply his background to bring sustainable solutions to storytelling and media, he is a contributor for the Environmental Media Association in Los Angeles. When he is not working to solve the climate crisis, he can be found journaling, enjoying a nice hike, watching a basketball game or learning about anthropology at a local museum.