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Image: Kiss the Ground's Evan Harrison and Oatman Flats Ranch's Yadi Wang | Sustainable Brands
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 — Director of Global
Communications for Sustainability at Walmart — led a
fun and lively plenary session on the final day of SB’23 San
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."
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"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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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”
to study how to communicate sustainability claims effectively. The study found
that category claims that speak to consumers’ needs for performance are key to
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
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
— 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
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,
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
Leinen concluded by emphasizing the need for partnerships between academia,
and government to address the challenges facing the oceans. She said that it is
no longer optional to consider the oceans when making decisions.
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
— 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.
Published Oct 24, 2023 11am EDT / 8am PDT / 4pm BST / 5pm 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.