One of many recurring themes at SB’22 San Diego was the need for a new lexicon and new metrics for the regeneration movement, which more accurately reflect the level of work and transformation needed to not only avert climate collapse but to enable a flourishing future for all.
How partnerships, technology and trees come together to drive more equitable outcomes
Image credit: Nancy Bourque
The Arbor Day Foundation, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has planted 500 million trees over the past five decades — this year, it has committed to planting that same amount in the next five years. As Ben Wilinsky — Arbor Day’s Director of Partnership and Innovation — shared in a Tuesday morning panel, the Foundation is taking a closer look at the role urban forestry can play in helping cities mitigate and adapt to climate change while simultaneously tackling inequity on a community scale.
Lack of trees in urban spaces is a direct determinant of a slew of human health issues from obesity to asthma to heat stroke. An integral part of the Foundation’s five-year planting goal is to plant trees in forests and communities of greatest need. Arbor Day and its corporate partners are utilizing a new suite of digital tools called NatureQuant to prioritize investments where they are needed most.
NatureQuant delivers remote-sensing technologies to assess and promote nature exposure. It uses satellite imagery to take stock of a community’s natural elements such as trees and ponds, then uses machine learning to provide a numerical NatureScore to a community's natural resources and the likely effects they will have on human health.
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Taking it further, NatureQuant uses its Nature Priority Index (NPI) to combine NatureScores with 17 social and economic factors — including income, employment and housing. It then screens for neighborhoods that are both nature-deficient and socioeconomically disadvantaged. The representatives from Arbor Day, PwC and Williams-Sonoma said the NPI has been an invaluable tool for in strategic tree planting in the communities that need it most.
PwC partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation and NatureQuant for urban forestry projects in Detroit, Chicago and Brooklyn. Williams-Sonoma is partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation to meet its own science-based targets.
Both Williams-Sonoma and PwC found that getting community engagement and buy-in where their projects are undertaken helps bridge the gap between climate action and equity.
NatureQuant CEO and co-founder Jared Hanley said the company is building hard data sets to build public support for boosting urban forestry — the first step in building consensus and “tree equity” in underserved communities.
Leaning into the intersection of people and planet, one will find trees at the center. They are conduits of community wellbeing and climate wellbeing wrapped up in one glorious package.
Notes from the net-positive journey
L-R: Sol Salinas, Prakash Arunkundrum, Miguel Sossa, James McCall, John C. Havens, Carl Picconatto | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
The realization that achieving net-zero emissions may not be enough to undo the damage we’ve done to the world has led to a growing number of net-positive ambitions and strategies throughout the business world. Any organization can play a part in the net-positive journey; and Capgemini is working with a community of high impact organizations that share a commitment to accelerate action, using net positive thinking to get a regenerative and sustainable future for all.
As Sally Uren, Chief Executive at Forum for the Future, pointed out, doing less bad is no longer good enough. Forum works with organizations to discover what it would look like to put more in than they took out. Her journey eventually coalesced with the greater net-positive movement; and to her delight, systems change thinking became an organic part of it.
Capgemini and its partners are now taking net positive to the next level; and Capgemini has committed a vast amount of its resources to discovering what a regenerative, net-positive business model looks like in practice.
“We are on a trajectory towards collapse,” said Sol Salinas, EVP, Americas Sustainability Leader at Capgemini. “We’re living in the world of “The Lorax.” Who’s going to speak for the trees? We have to speak for the trees.”
Clearly, businesses have an outsized voice to speak for the environment; and more and more household names are using their scale and influence to do just that.
Logitech, for example, is committed to be carbon positive by 2030 and is working on introducing carbon labeling to all of its products — a growing trend, especially with food products.
“We're going to come right out and tell you how much our product is polluting, what we're going to do about it, and how we're going to put power back in the hands of consumers,” said Prakash Arunkundrum, Head of Global Operations and Sustainability at Logitech.
Logitech’s carbon label started from a realization that if Logitech didn't do it, who would? And if someone else did it by 2050, it would be too late. Net positive is about the intersection of the planet and people, Arunkundrum said, and how to make business’ impact not just less bad but better.
Climate Impact Partners (CIP) helps brands certify their products as carbon neutral through offsetting solutions such as planting trees.
The meaning of terms including “net zero,” “net positive,” etc are lost on most consumers, even amidst corporations, said CIP VP Miguel Sossa. CIP exists to bridge these disparities and drive greater engagement of using business for a regenerative future.
“In and of itself, conservation is just doing less bad,” said James McCall, Chief Sustainability Officer at HP Inc. “We’ve got to move beyond less bad to doing more good, and that’s the concept that net positive embodies: How do we, as companies, start to be a force for good — beyond our own footprint?”
“The doomsday side of things is not just depressing; but shockingly, it really doesn’t inspire people,” said John C. Havens, Lead of Sustainability Practices at IEEE. “It doesn’t create a picture of what could be.”
If the societal metrics of success are only around economic growth, civilization will fail, Havens said. But if humanity establishes as a baseline of long-term ecological and human wellbeing based on Indigenous experience and wisdom, bio-centric success will prevail.
“If you want to have an impact and go far, you have to partner broadly and drive change,” said Carl Picconatto, Director at the Emerging Tech Innovation Center at MITRE — a US not-for-profit that applies a systems-thinking approach to provide solutions that enhance national security and way of life.
Though MITRE was late to embedding regeneration into its core, Picconatto says it now exists to empower governments to make meaningful change for regeneration. As a pilot and research company, MITRE is launching microgrid power projects, supply chain and data tracking, and more — all “mission critical” challenges in the journey toward regeneration/net positivity.
Regeneration requires that collaboration and competition become one and the same. Humanity can't afford thirty years of inaction; but the panelists agreed ten years of experimentation and innovation is within the budget of a net-positive world.
Grounding governance and sustainability strategies in social determinants of health
Image credit: Darrel Und
In this afternoon breakout, Lauren Wilkins — CEO Action for Racial Equity Fellow at sustainability strategy consultancy Point B — moderated a panel with Rachel Vestergaard, founder and CEO of Empower Co; and Laura Sutphen, Managing Director of Social Impact + Inclusion at Golin. First grounding the conversation in terminology and definitions, Sutphen provided the following to level set:
Intersectionality describes ways that systems of inequality intersect based on gender, identity, class, disability and other human factors. From a systems perspective, how two independent things interact.
Environmental justice is about the ways that the built environment has been created and carved up in ways that expose Black, Brown and Indigenous folks to more pollution, more toxic environments, etc.
Environmental justice is nuanced differently than climate justice. The climate crisis disproportionately affects people who are low-income, Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
Social determinants of health are the social, economic and human-based systems that keep us healthy — for example, transportation access, safe neighborhoods, gun violence incidents. Social determinants of health look at constructs around humans that constitute holistic health.
Focused on women’s empowerment, Vestergaard introduced her company’s W Standard™ — which measures six critical domains of women’s empowerment: health, time saving, food security, leadership, knowledge/education, income/assets. She explained that each “W+ unit” represents a 10 percent improvement in a woman’s life in the domain measured. Vestergaard attests that women control the new financial resource, creating further positive impact — citing as an example that “companies with gender-balanced leadership have better climate-mitigation and adaptation policies.”
Golin’s recently released Justice For All research is a national survey of the perceptions and responsibility of environmental justice. This topic has been studied for a long time, however not much talked about business in terms of charting solutions. Sutphen shared some highlights:
Just over half (54 percent) report familiarity with environmental justice but only 1/3 could accurately describe it and more than 25 percent could not define it.
Almost half of leaders believe that environmental justice is for the environment only, and not connected to race or communities. Leaders don’t see environmental issues and racial justice as linked.
More than 85 percent of US consumers believe that environmental injustice — a type of discrimination where people of low-income or minority communities are forced to live close to environmentally hazardous conditions — is important. But only 1/3 of them are satisfied with the actions taken by companies to address this issue.
Sutphen claimed “when we marry these issues, we can make better decisions” and more progress.
Looking at opportunity and upside, Vestergaard sees the opportunity now more than ever to get specific with data and measurement given that intersectionality is a large, multifaceted, abstract concept. Sutphen emphasized the power of storytelling in helping companies break down the complexity into impacts — especially human elements in the E, S and G of ESG.
It takes a village: A model for pre-competitive and local collaboration for improving climate, social conditions
Image credit: AlteredSnaps
A first-of-its-kind collaboration in Georgia is rallying the business community to achieve state-wide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Drawdown Georgia Business Compact — which includes Delta Airlines, Cox Enterprise, Elevance Health, Goodr and Norfolk Southern — is engaging collaboratively to set priorities, scale impact, and measure and report on climate solutions and the co-benefits resulting from them — including increasing equity, creating jobs, boosting public health, and a host of positive environmental impacts.
80 percent of health is influenced by factors outside of the doctor’s office, said Hakon Mattson, VP and Chief Sustainability Officer at Elevance Health](https://www.elevancehealth.com/. Climate change is the greatest social determinant to health, he explained, with overarching impacts on other issues such as food insecurity. Climate change is a loop of co-detriments, so a loop of co-benefits must be engaged to address it.
Jasmine Crowe-Houston is CEO and founder of Goodr — a food-waste management company using technology to combat hunger and food waste. Goodr is tackling food waste to address not only hunger but the methane emissions associated with food waste — a massive factor not only in climate change but in public health of BIPOC communities. Partnerships and collaborations are hugely important in building meaningful a village of collective changemakers. Crowe-Houston said Goodr has leveraged resources including instant food delivery services and local farmers to utilize the existing infrastructure, not redesign the wheel and create opportunities for reaching previously unengaged stakeholders. For example, many farmers receiving food waste from Goodr aren't used to reporting on waste metrics; but Goodr’s platform enables such unengaged stakeholders to join the fight against climate change and inequity.
As Clarence Jackson, Senior Director of Sustainable Supply Chain and Business Operations at Cox, pointed out, village-building and networking moves individual efforts past silos. Collaborating utilizes the interconnectedness and systems thinking required to solve the world’s pressing problems. He pointed to a recent Edelman study showing that trust is at an all-time low for the government and the media. But people do trust companies — highlighting that household brand names are well positioned to show up and make change.
As a fortune 20 company, Elevance Health has some control over its social and environmental impact, but it still needs external partners to achieve success. Mattson said joining initiatives such as Drawdown Georgia has been key to building a regional tribe that’s truly capable of tackling the social and environmental crises of the 21st century.
The panelists pointed out that Drawdown Georgia promotes market-based motivators for sustainability versus top-down government or policy mandates — an approach that's hugely powerful in traditionally red states. Southern states are not traditionally in tune with climate action, Crowe-Houston acknowledged — and she's excited to find bold new ways to lead climate social action in traditionally conservative spaces by leveraging market drivers and a village of organizations bound by purpose.
Developing, aligning and activating authentic brand purpose
L-R: Pip Cross, Aidaly Sosa, Simon Mainwaring, Jill Tomandl | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
In another Tuesday afternoon breakout, three speakers explored the importance of intentional brand positioning in order to activate a strong purpose statement. Philippa (Pip) Cross, Sustainability Lead at Barkley, adeptly guided the conversation among Jill Tomandl, VP of Global Product Development, Innovation and Brand Sustainability at Smashbox Cosmetics; Aidaly Sosa, Head of Marketing USA at Tony's Chocolonely; and Simon Mainwaring, founder & CEO of We First.
Smashbox, part of The Estée Lauder Companies, is a studio and makeup brand founded by Dean and Davis Factor — great grandsons of Hollywood makeup legend Max Factor. As an all-performance beauty brand, the Smashbox product line was created to survive on sets with hot lights and numerous costume changes. Its mission is to “support those who are driven, dream big and put themselves to the test, and empower the community through creativity.”
Tomandl shared the brand’s “Be Seen” product — a ‘perfect’ red shade of lipstick, created for and by women of color. Red is a powerful, unapologetic color, she explains. And to scale the power, the brand has partnered with the nonprofit Black Girl Ventures — which creates access to capital and community for Black and Brown women founders.
Tony’s Chocolonely is a social-impact brand that sells chocolate to end illegal child labor and modern slavery — a prevalent issue in cocoa farming, particularly in West Africa. According to Sosa, the company exists to change this by following its roadmap of three pillars:
Lead by example
Tony’s brand purpose is to increase standards in the cocoa industry, alluding to traceable beans from farming to product at shelf. At the end of every year, the business looks at how many coca beans were bought from farmers and how much they were paid. Tony’s Chocolonely is driven by an impenetrable belief that child labor can be eliminated. Sosa said that the business helps farmers with training on the ground and does not shy away from communicating where and how it can improve — especially areas where there is child labor and human trafficking.
With the prompt that not every brand purpose goes back to a social issue like these, Mainwaring declared that companies “need to be clear-eyed about the marketplace” and “companies and brands are better served to lean in three to five years out.” He maintained that every brand has a purpose; yet companies should reverse engineer from the future rather than looking back.
Two related themes emerged: complicated social and environmental issues, plus the importance of language. Mainwaring instructed that simple, consistent and scalable storytelling is one ambition — compressing complexity into simple language. With Tony’s Chocolonely, people want to indulge; the colorful, playful packaging brings people in to the brand and its story: “crazy about chocolate, serious about people.” With Smashbox, Tomandl added, the packaging lends itself to simplified storytelling with its branding iconography.
Mainwaring asserted that brand purpose is an expression of something and everything we are doing — for example, DEI and supply chain transparency are “like ornaments on a Christmas tree — what is the trunk of the tree?”
Communities as beneficiaries in business models
Image credit: 4VI
At a sustainability conference, it’s easy to talk shop with the like-minded professionals in attendance, as many at SB’22 San Diego share similar views on the urgency of climate change and the need for social improvements.
But how do you approach — and include — those outside of this bubble? Not business-level stakeholders, but those outside of the sphere altogether? A Wednesday afternoon panel tackled that issue, examining a few pertinent examples of how a range of organizations interact with those on the ground in the very communities they claim to support — encouraging collaboration and next-phase solutions to the climate crisis in ways often overlooked.
“It’s really important to reinvest in community,” said moderator and Paulman Farms farmer Roric Paulman. Paulman is on the front lines as a rare connection between the ground-level farm community in Nebraska and larger entities who direct support to build necessary infrastructure and lifelines in his community of 20,000.
Another interesting ground-level perspective came from panelist Calum Matthews, VP Sustainability & Strategy at 4VI — the recently remodeled and rebranded social enterprise organization for Tourism Vancouver Island. The island, one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations, is ground zero in the overtourism conversation. Matthews spoke about engaging the island’s Indigenous community and other stakeholders in how to build a sustainable, welcoming model for tourists, but protecting the land and people within these often-smaller regions.
“All of our communities have different needs,” he said. “Many of our communities are also at capacity.”
Molly Renaldo, senior partnerships manager of CPG & Dairy at Fair Trade USA, shared how her organization is evolving relationships with communities in developing countries to give them clear and autonomous access to resources to help their growth.
In one example, she spoke about tea company NUMI — which pays an additional premium to its tea farmers. Those funds go directly into an account run by a democratically elected committee chosen by the entire farming group. She said that the governance and development of this system inspired some of the leaders — often women — to run for (and win) local office in their communities. She added that it created a trickle-down effect where young girls, often also on the farms, become inspired and can realize tea farming as a path to a better life.
Back in the US, Marcus Krembs, head of sustainability US & Canada at Enel North America, spoke about engaging rural communities on climate in a very direct way.
“Climate is not what we lead with,” he said, “it’s jobs and economic development.”
He stressed the possibilities to evolve the conversation with rural America by showing how a clean energy transition can lead to more stable jobs for these smaller communities and to more economic development throughout an entire region.
As strategic partnerships leader at Truterra, LLC — a program launched by Land O’Lakes — Julie DiNatale is in charge of building relationships across an agricultural network of more than 1,500 farmers. Her thought process around engaging the agricultural community centers on creating as many touchpoints as possible for people to feel involved in the process — all pointing towards a future that’s regenerative and economically viable.
The overarching theme throughout the discussion was one of inclusion: ensuring that all parties have a seat at the table and feel welcome to share their views and concerns, and have a part in creating solutions.