This week, Sustainable Brands’ third annual Istanbul conference brought together global and local brands, thought leaders and NGOs to explore how to make the shift to a sustainable future. Through this year’s theme, ‘How Now,’ the over 500 attendees witnessed over 90 speakers explore and illustrate How brands are tapping into emerging innovation to successfully scale sustainability to the next level Now. Over 500 attendees came together to discuss how now strategies in the face of changing times and changing consumer behaviors, learn from over 90 speakers and participate in 30 breakouts and 3 workshops throughout two days of the event.
The Sustainable Brands Corporate Member community was represented by BASF, Unilever, L’Oreal, and Philips, who joined innovators from leading brands such as Schneider Electric, Vodafone, Mercedes Benz and Oracle.
Speaker Thomas Kolster kicked off the first day stating that we are in a marketing and sustainability crisis because companies are still doing business as usual. He pointed out that we mainly focus on now first, without thinking about how due to busy schedules and time constraints, and we need to find balance between how and now. Dirk Voeste, VP of Sustainability at BASF, then referenced our expected population increase of up to 9.6 billion people by 2050, 67 percent of which will live in urban areas (meaning there will be an additional 2 billion people, or approximately 150 more Istanbuls). He mentioned the urgency of finding solutions now to be able to live comfortably in the future, by actively addressing sustainability issues, identifying significant sustainability concern and developing an action plan – a focus of BASF’s Creator Space program.
Next, Mustafa Seckin, VP of Marketing for Unilever Turkey, stressed that only solution is sustainability in a world where 1 billion go to bed starving every night and another billion are obese. Unilever reaches 2 billion people with its brands everyday – one out of three people in the world. That’s why the company put the sustainability in the core of their business with its Sustainable Living Plan. Seckin mentioned that the company continually works to do its part; all Unilever Turkey plants are now zero waste, and it has opened its first LEED-certified ice cream factory in Konya, which reuses rain and surface water, recovers heat, and is zero-non-hazardous-waste-to-landfill by design. He also gave updates from the Lipton project he presented last year; the company now provides health screenings to over 6,000 female farmers working in the region, and trains over 27,000 farmers in work safety, erosion control, pruning, fertilization, waste management, record keeping, and biodiversity. Unilever Turkey also partnered with Can Yalman Design to design ergonomic tea-harvesting scissors for tea farmers, which helped them reduce back and wrist injuries from harvesting tea.
Jerry Michalski, founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition, discussed how paying attention to the word “consumer” changed his life, and how the word itself is pushing people towards consuming more and more. In old times, many cultures knew how to take care of the earth and it was a common goal with over 1000-year-old rituals. Now, we need to rediscover the ancient notions of commons; we can’t just tell people to consume, consume, and consume. He suggested other words such as ‘customer,’ ‘member,’ ‘fan,’ ‘client,’ ‘ally,’ ‘guest,’ etc - anything that won’t dehumanize us. He summed up the success for brands as seeing customers as peers, being honest, being open and vulnerable, understanding social dynamics, and designing from trust.
Carol Sanford, author of The Responsible Entrepreneur and The Responsible Business, started off her presentation with an important question for the CEOs in the room: ‘Do you believe you are able to move towards values and sustainability when operating business?’ She gave examples of how every employee has the authority to move things and mentioned how corporate direction moves everything. Then Dr. Todd Kashdan, Professor of Psychology at George Mason University, asserted we don’t have a time-management problem, but an energy-management problem. He asked the most important question in implementing an organization chart: ‘when you walk out from the leader’s office, do you feel energized or exhausted?’ and gave 7 tips for increasing energy. According to Kashdan, our most important problem is comfort addiction. As we slowly try to consume small pockets of comfort in patterns, we become ill-equipped to handle the long term. We have to accept that out of the comfort zone is where the growth and challenge - not barriers, threats and suffering - lie.
In an afternoon panel, Ebru Ozguc, Marketing Director at Vodafone Turkey, and Birim Gonulsen Ozyurekli, Marketing Director at Hurriyet, stressed the importance of knowing the core of your business and being flexible towards changes in the market. Turkish musician and writer Ayhan Sicimoglu exhilarated the audience with his colorful personal stories, which were also applicable for brands to establish personal connections with their customers.
The final main stage presentation on day one was the Future Is in Tourism campaign from Anadolu Efes, manufacturer of Efes Pilsen beers, and conducted in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Turkish Republic Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The project aims at strengthening the capacity of local tourism actors and non-governmental organizations for contributing to sustainable tourism development through partnerships with public and private institutions. Some of the projects include: The “100% Misia” Project, focused on the revival of sericulture and increasing women’s employment; “Creating Women-Led Sustainable Tourism Initiatives in Mardin,” which created a model initiative through educating local women to operate a bed & breakfast; and the “Traditional Kitchen of Seferihisar” project, reviving local gastronomy through establishing a kitchen to be operated by women. In the scope of these three projects, 109 were trained, 40 were employed and three of them opened their own enterprises. In addition, the project engaged two foundations, three public institutions and two cooperatives. The initiative is a great example of channeling a company’s resources and expertise to a social need. The structure of the initiative and the public- and private-sector partnerships formed led the initiative to be seen as an opinion leader in the establishment of a new medium for local development: sustainable tourism.
During networking breaks, attendees indulged in Turkish delicacies during breaks and engaged in deeper discussions.
On day two, speakers from Yasar Holding, n11.com and Prefabrik Yapi shared their experiences on how they changed their business models in the face of the changing consumer landscape. Then Florian Peter, CEO of Mandalah Europe, questioned the existence, purpose and behavior of brands. co:collective’s Conrad Lisco complemented Peter’s talk by presenting examples of brands and their quests, using whitespace to represent the growth outside of the core of the company. Even though it might be scary in the whitespace, and people think it’s a place where innovation budgets go to die, it’s important, he asserted, to know the core of the company and innovate other business branches around it to bring more revenue. One good example is TOMS, which started as a shoe company; the company’s quest is making giving the bigger part of getting, extending its business to eyewear, coffee and now its own marketplace.
Markus Laubcher, Program Manager, Circular Economy at Philips, touched on how to create value with sustainable innovation and how the Internet of Things is changing the field. He mentioned that the company’s portfolio now consists of 52 percent sustainable products. Marci Zaroff, an eco-fashionista and president of Portico Brands, inspired the audience with her presentation and mentioned that Turkey is inherently sustainable by being one of the largest organic cotton producers. She aims to breaks the stigma that sustainable clothes can’t be fashionable and have to be expensive. Alex Pallete, co-founder of PICNIC, then talked about how consensus kills good ideas and how brands might be missing the golden idea by trying to please everyone.
Special thanks to our partners in Istanbul - their enthusiasm, tireless effort and endless spark go well beyond this event and we all carry this momentum forward.
Looking forward to seeing you in San Diego next week!