Marketing and Comms
SB '13 Day Four Speakers, Debates, Ads and Songs Exemplify Successful Sustainability Communications

Thursday, the morning of the fourth and final day of SB ‘13, continued the week’s momentum and lived up to its “Communications” theme with a variety of rousing speakers and conversations, peppered with examples of clever and successful sustainability messaging from some of our top brands that focus on “selling behavior, not selling stuff.”

Futerra co-founder Solitaire Townsend started the morning by posing two questions to the audience: Are brands still the problem with sustainability? Or are brands the solution to sustainability? The audience seemed to believe the answer was “yes” to both. To illustrate the debate, Townsend brought onstage a group of “protesters” on each side of the argument. Her conclusion was that both sides are right, and we must all work together if we hope to achieve a sustainability renaissance. As she put it, “What we say changes what we think and how we feel,” which nicely set the stage for the theme of the day and how to reinvent it for sustainability.

Creativity is at the heart of change, according to Rainforest Alliance president Tensie Whelan. She opened with the NGO’s beloved “Follow the Frog” video, which follows a sustainability enthusiast who quits his job, goes to the rainforest, leads the local community in a rebellion against the logging firms … and gives us an idea of how misguided this approach to creating change could be. Instead, the video suggests that we support RA-certified products, which are sustaining the rainforests in which they are produced. “People want to do the right thing,” said Whelan. “All they need is the opportunity.”

Next, Christine Cea, Senior Director of Marketing Communications for Unilever, told the audience that the company hopes to make sustainable living commonplace. To do this, business as well as marketing will need to be reinvented. Brands must stand for something more than just product features; Cea cited her company’s founder’s mission to make cleanliness commonplace with the introduction of domestic soap. Smart messaging is key to reach consumers and close the gap between attitude and behaviors but authenticity also is critical — without it, messaging is weak. Most importantly, brands must engage on an emotional level, to inspire customers to action. “Put people first, build brand love and create magic,” Cea said.

Adam Werbach, co-founder of the new sharing tool Yerdle, took the stage with NBC’s Maggie Kendall to discuss the rise of the sharing economy and its enormous potential for reducing waste. Sharing is already something many Americans do — 52 percent say they have borrowed or leased purchased items. But while some 75 percent of Americans claim to do a good job recycling, only 34 percent of city waste is actually recycled. “We have to figure out how to turn the acquisition of things into the acquisition of experiences,” Werbach said. Maggie Kendall and Adam Werbach

Myths have been part of human culture since the earliest times, according to Free Range Studios CEO/co-founder Jonah Sachs. He explored the ideas behind his popular workshops on the power of storytelling to further consumer engagement, activation and loyalty. Stories are how we connect with the world and make sense of it; they are therefore a critical tool for bringing about a more sustainable world. “The stories we are telling are as important as what we are selling,” said Sachs.

Deborah Pardes

Check out our wrap-up of Thursday's breakout sessions.


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