SB ’15 San Diego’s final day plenaries centered on what many would describe as the Holy Grail of sustainability engagement: reaching people’s hearts and minds to drive sustainable change. MC’d by Annie Longsworth, founder and CEO of The Siren Agency, the day’s speakers explored topics as varied and interconnected as employee and consumer engagement, stakeholder partnerships and activist visual art.
John Schultz, AVP of Sustainability Operations at AT&T, began his talk with a reflection on attending his first Sustainable Brands conference in 2007. Inspired from attending the conference, he went back to work inspired to find ways to integrate sustainability into the AT&T consumer experience. He shared that the company has since developed programs such as its Eco-Rating, AT&T Aspire, and It Can Wait, to connect consumers to social and environmental education and opportunities for action. His final words: “Don’t fall asleep on technology. Don’t forget how technology can help you connect to your audience, how it can make your business more efficient, and how you can make new products with technology.”
Jonathan Atwood, VP of Sustainable Living & Corporate Communications at Unilever, then spoke about how communications supports the company’s mission of doubling its business while decoupling its environmental impact. “My job is about helping to create a movement for sustainable growth,” Atwood said. Using a popular viral video to share his story, he spoke about Unilever’s use of partnerships to create awareness, understanding, engagement, and advocacy among employees, consumers and youth – as well as creating “sustainable living brands” through sustainable purpose and sustainable products.
Winston then spoke with Manuel Gomez, VP of Sustainability at Walmart, who shared information about Walmart’s new Sustainability Leaders Badge program, which adorns products that are “not necessarily” sustainable, but are “made by sustainability leaders” on the company’s e-commerce site. According to Gomez, the badge is Walmart’s way of responding to consumers who want to know how their products are being made and by whom.
Inspirational artist Prince Ea, Founder of Make SMART Cool and the brain behind the viral “Dear Future Generations: Sorry” video, then shared his perspective on the power of content. Notwithstanding the standing ovation he received from the audience prior to his talk – only the second standing ovation in SB’s plenary history – Prince Ea’s heartfelt presentation urged brand leaders to use creativity and emotion to reach people from all walks of life to do good. “I believe that what comes from the heart reaches the heart. When it comes from the heart, people will be drawn to the brand,” he said.
Eduardo Srur, visual artist and author of Manual for Urban Intervention, closed the day’s plenary with an inspiring talk on what art can do for sustainability. Showing examples of his art displayed on the public streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil – such as public mazes made of recycled trash and bikes suspended above congested street traffic – he shared how art can bring attention to humans’ impact on the environment and can be a vehicle to develop cultural capital for brands that want to make the public think differently. “Art is a powerful communications tool with the public,” he said.
Whether it’s through viral videos, public art, product labels or more, opportunities and strategies for effectively crafting and telling your sustainability story have never been more diverse, nor more important.