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Marketing and Comms
The Secret Sauce of Storytelling:
Bringing the Masses Along on the Road to Regeneration

Final-day keynotes at SB’23 San Diego explored various approaches to turning consumers into collaborators in our efforts to create an ethical, equitable, climate-resilient future for all.

Aman Singh

Aman Singh — Director of Global Communications for Sustainability at Walmart — led a fun and lively plenary session on the final day of SB’23 San Diego. Singh is a Sustainable Brands veteran; she grew up in this community. A lot of the "OGs" are still here, she said.

She recapped the week with a few quotes:

"Don't push; just pivot."

"You can't come to communities and decide for them what they want."

"The one with the most hope has the most influence."

According to Singh, the job of sustainability advocates is to make the path of least resistance the most sustainable one.

As a sustainability communications professional, she also shared three qualities of good stories that she has learned in her years of work in the space:

1. Tug at the heart strings

2. Promote hope, not fear

3. Give consumers a simple action.

Responsible marketing through the lens of local

Lola Bakare

First up was Lola Bakare — CMO Advisor & Inclusive Marketing Strategist at be/co, author of Responsible Marketing, and proudly self-professed "squeaky wheel.”

She explained that “responsible marketing” is about addressing systemic inequities in a way that delivers outsized business results. It is about contributing positively to a brand-aligned problem through equity or inclusiveness.

She cited examples such as adidas' Liquid Billboard campaign, which helped women in Dubai feel more comfortable wearing swimsuits; and retailer Giant's highlighting of minority-owned brands on store shelves.

Bakare's call to action to attendees is to do everything you can to keep reaching for more — she believes that we can all do more to make a positive impact on the world.

Addressing ‘purpose fragility:’ navigating social challenges with courage and vulnerability

L-R: Jorge Fontanez, Asher Jay and Conroy Boxhill

The next onstage discussion built on a conversation on "purpose fragility" from earlier in the week, and looked at the role of business as a force for good and the need for leaders to stand up for what they believe in. The panel also emphasized the importance of collaboration and community in creating change.

Jorge Fontanez, CEO of B Lab US & Canada, asserted the need for businesses to be ready to stand alone for their commitments. He said that companies often fail on their commitments because they are not ready for potential backlash. He called on businesses to find courage and to stop thinking of each other as competitors, but as collaborators.

Asher Jay, founder of Henoscene — a real-time campaign platform that allows brands to interact with consumers to co-create positive outcomes in the world through transparency and accountability — highlighted the role of mass media for breaking stories that help citizens mobilize towards solutions. She said that it is important to show people the problem set and the solution, and to be disruptive in a positive way. She also touted creating an "atmosphere of unconditional positive regard" in order to encourage people to take action.

Conroy Boxhill, US President & Corporate Counsel Lead at Porter Novelli, reiterated the importance of listening to stakeholders and understanding their expectations. As an example, he said companies are using technology to get deep into online communities in order to understand what people’s perspectives. He asserted that companies need to be willing to change their plans based on feedback from stakeholders.

The panelists agreed that businesses have a unique role to play in addressing the challenges facing society, and it is important for them to be a force for good by using their resources and influence to make a positive impact.

Consumer-capturing communications: a best-practice guide

Randi Kronthal-Sacco

Next, Randi Kronthal-Sacco — Senior Scholar at the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business — discussed strategies for accelerating consumer demand for sustainability. She noted that while sustainable purchases have been growing for the past 10 years, they still only account for about 18 percent of the market. In order to reach 50 or 60 percent, legacy products with large shares need to adopt sustainable practices and communicate them effectively to consumers.

Kronthal-Sacco identified several reasons why companies are not doing more to promote sustainability. These include greenhushing, greenwashing, fear of boycotts (due to the aforementioned ‘purpose fragility’), and a lack of understanding of how to talk to consumers about sustainability in an authentic way.

To address these challenges, NYU Stern partnered with nine “iconic” consumer-goods companies to study how to communicate sustainability claims effectively. The study found that category claims that speak to consumers’ needs for performance are key to driving purchases.

They also learned that:

1. Category claims must speak to consumers. Performance is key.

2. Sustainability claims also work — they outperformed other category claims in the test.

3. Claims act as an amplifier, increasing the number of audiences they attract.

The messages that worked best were those that focused on the personal benefits of sustainability. Consumers are egocentric and they need to understand how sustainability can benefit them directly. Messages that focus on science jargon, certifications, traceability or packaging tend to be less effective.

In terms of demographics, Gen Z is more likely to care about the science and the environmental record of a company. However, even Gen Z consumers are more likely to be persuaded by messages that focus on the personal benefits of sustainability.

Multi-sector collaboration restoring kelp forests near San Diego

Margaret Leinen

Margaret Leinen — Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Vice Chancellor for Marine Science at UC San Diego, and Chair of the Science Community for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development — then took us into a warm, underwater world. Too warm, unfortunately — as climate change is throwing ocean temperatures and the health of marine ecosystems out of whack; Leinen’s organizations are at the forefront of monitoring ocean health in a variety of ways and forming strategic partnerships aimed at restoring the health of oceans and their critical ecosystems.

As we know, our oceans are warming due to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change. They are the buffer — the flywheel that keeps us safe, she said. She noted that 2 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. In order to ensure that we can continue to feed the planet, we need to protect marine ecosystems and biodiversity. This means changing our relationship with the ocean and equipping ourselves with the data needed to proceed effectively.

On that front, Leinen described Scripps’ Argo floats — robotic devices that collect data on temperature, salinity, acidity and other oceanographic-health indicators. This data is essential for understanding how the oceans are changing, including specific ecosystems such as kelp forests — which will be another critical tool in fighting climate change.

Leinen concluded by emphasizing the need for partnerships between academia, industry, NGOs and government to address the challenges facing the oceans. She said that it is no longer optional to consider the oceans when making decisions.

Engaging the masses in regenerative agriculture

L-R: Evan Harrison and Yadi Wang

Closing out the plenary and providing a perfect lead-in to the afternoon’s Regenerative Ag Summit was Evan Harrison, CEO of Kiss the Ground — a nonprofit organization celebrating 10 years of work promoting regenerative agriculture through storytelling, education, and partnerships.

The organization is focused on broadening awareness of regenerative agriculture, fostering corporate accountability and driving policy change. Kiss the Ground is also working to build a community of influencers, role models, and youth who are passionate about regenerative agriculture. Harrison said since the release of the organization’s self-titled documentary was released in 2020, Kiss the Ground has helped to transition millions of acres of land to regenerative management in the US.

Joining him onstage was Yadi Wang, a former scientist who is now General Manager at Arizona’s Oatman Flats Ranch — a once-degraded, third-generation farm that is being nursed back to health through regenerative practices that will be featured as part of an ongoing Kiss the Ground mini-documentary series later this year. Wang said he has witnessed the devastating impacts of climate change on his farm firsthand — including drought, flooding and extreme-weather events.

Wang believes that the broken water cycle is a major contributor to these climate impacts. He explained that the Earth breathes through the ocean, which sinks carbon and exhales oxygen. The carbon and water cycles are connected, and the soil is the second-largest organism on Earth.

Wang also asserted the importance of approaching farming with a holistic mindset, both from an environmental and social standpoint — farmers have the highest rate of suicide of any profession. He said that technology can be helpful in boosting farm health; but he highlighted the need for supporting farmers through local sourcing — including through incentives and policies that enable smaller farmers to get more from every dollar spent on food in the US (currently, they only get about 7 cents on every dollar).

In the meantime, Kiss the Ground’s goal is to continue to inspire and educate audiences worldwide by sharing a diverse array of stories directly from regenerative leaders about their unique journeys.

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