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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Brands Are Shaping a Better Future by Designing for How People Live

SB Brand-Led Culture Change featured a host of insights into how brands are engaging customers and changing behaviors through circular design and making energy-efficient choices “normal;” and two new guides aim to equip businesses to meaningfully address social- and climate-justice issues.

Last week at the SB Brand-Led Culture Change conference, a host of brands shared insights into engaging customers and changing behaviors through circular design and making energy-efficient choices “normal;” and two new guides aim to equip businesses to meaningfully address social- and climate-justice issues.

Brands revolutionizing reuse through circular design

Image credit: Just Salad

Moving away from linear, toward circular, design models is critical for a product to be truly sustainable. In this Thursday morning breakout session, BBMG, Just Salad, REI and Target explored the evolution of designing for circularity-friendly user behaviors. From adopting reusable containers to emerging e-commerce platforms and creating upcycled products, these brands have pioneered innovative approaches to cultivating more sustainable behaviors while cultivating customer loyalty. Throughout the session, panelists shared strategies to attract new consumers and engage with current consumers while reducing waste.

BBMG kicked off the session by focusing on the key elements and principles of circular design, underscoring the importance of making circularity both enjoyable and accessible to drive lasting behavior change. Founding partner Raphael Bemporad asked the audience to consider: “How do we design so every person, product, or material is utilized?”

Jason Breen, Senior Director of Target’s Owned Brand Innovation Practice, talked through how the retailer set a goal to have 100 percent of Target’s owned brands circular by design by 2040. With a focus on generating joy and ease for its customers, Target has steadily integrated circular principles into its brand portfolio through initiatives such as its car seat trading event, offering discounts for returning items, and exploring programs such as used shoe take-backs have pushed the brand even closer to its goal. And Target’s Universal Thread clothing line utilizes digital product passports to educate consumers about sustainability and incentivize proper end-of-life disposal options.

Laura Kelley — Sr. Manager of Recommerce at REI — spoke on how the outdoor-apparel brand has been dabbling in circularity through the reselling of used gear for over 6 decades, starting with the REI Garage Sale (nka REI Re/Supply) in 1962. This initiative aligns with the core principle of keeping products in use and maximizing their lifespan while also getting the financial benefits of reselling what could potentially be thrown out. REI invested in this model five years ago — creating a two-sided marketplace to balance demand and supply — making it as easy as possible for customers to trade in gear through various channels including in-person trade-ins, mail-in returns or reselling items in dedicated resell stores for incentives such as gift cards. Recommerce is now a critical line of business for REI that also aligns with its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, as a significant portion of emissions comes from the production of new products.

Certified B Corp Just Salad also aims to create an easy process for customers to embrace circular behaviors. VP of Marketing Jennifer Lally discussed the brand’s mission to craft a menu that is sustainable, regenerative and easy for customers to engage with to make a positive impact. The fast-casual chain innovates both inside and outside its stores — implementing initiatives such as carbon labeling its menu and partnering with organizations to reduce food waste. Its "Eat. Rinse. Repeat." model incentivizes customers to buy reusable bowls for use in-store with a free topping on purchase day and on every subsequent visit that they bring back their bowl — thus helping the company to avoid millions of pounds of single-use packaging annually.

The session ended with attendees brainstorming how Just Salad can encourage its customers to embrace circularity in their everyday lives — to further drive the shift towards more conscious lifestyles.

Driving behavioral shifts and transformations that last

Image credit: Electrolux

On Friday afternoon, a panel of marketing communications and sustainability leaders from globally recognized brands spoke about more ways brand campaigns and product design are nudging consumers to change behaviors to address the growing climate crisis — while also being profitable drivers of the business.

Suzanne Shelton, founder/CEO at Shelton Group, kicked off by asking the panelists why driving behavior change is an important focus area for Tide and Electrolux — which have joined forces to encourage consumers to use the cold cycle when doing laundry.

Lifecycle assessments have shown that 70 percent of Tide’s carbon footprint is in the use phase. “We know that by tackling wash temperatures and product use, we can have a much bigger impact on carbon emissions than anything we’re doing with our own operations,” said Todd Cline, Sr. Director of Sustainability at Proctor & Gamble.

Tide’s brand ambition is for 75 percent of all laundry loads to be done using cold water by 2030. “Ideally, we’d like the entire market to get to 75 percent of loads or more,” Cline added. “From a science standpoint, it is the biggest impact we can have.”

Electrolux’s long-term ambition is that its entire value chain is net zero by 2050. Lifecycle assessments have demonstrated that energy usage from the brand’s washers and dryers is responsible for approximately 85 percent of its climate impact; so, the company can make its greatest contribution to lowering its footprint by meeting its product-efficiency goals.

“Our commitment is to make clothes last twice as long with half the environmental impact,” said Tara Helms, Director of Sustainability North America at Electrolux. “We want to elongate the lifetime of those clothes, and we want consumers to lower their energy usage at home.”

Consumer research has shown that laundry habits are generational: “Most people wash their laundry the way they were taught,” Helms pointed out. “That is super important — 80 percent of people use the ‘normal’ cycle setting the majority of the time.”

Helms shared some of the ways Electrolux’s product designs are incentivizing desired consumer behaviors using visual cues. The “normal” cycle defaults to cold water, and a leaf icon appears on the machine when a consumer chooses a less energy-intensive setting. The more energy efficient the cycle, the more leaves appear.

She also shared recent brand campaigns that emphasize making more sustainable choices. The brand’s “Make it Last” campaign encourages consumers to “Give your clothes a longer life — for a more sustainable future” and “Break the Pattern” highlights the wastefulness of the textile industry and garment graveyards such as Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Throughout the conversation, Shelton reminded those in attendance that the average human does not want to walk around changing their behaviors. “We are not going to tackle climate change unless people, governments and brands commit to making changes,” she said.

Pathways to meaningful impact: Navigating social and climate justice in business

Image credit: Nara & DVIDS Public Domain Archive

In these increasingly fraught times, the imperative for businesses to authentically engage with issues of social and climate justice has never been clearer. As companies navigate this complex terrain, questions arise regarding where to start, how to play a meaningful role and how to do it authentically. Moderated by Annie Longsworth, Partner — ESG Impact & Value Creation at Shelton Group, this Friday afternoon workshop unveiled two groundbreaking guides to assist businesses in navigating this complex space.

Ksenia Benifand, Senior Principal Change Designer at Forum for the Future, kicked off the session by presenting a new guide, co-created with B Lab, aimed at enabling organizations to effectively and holistically address climate- and social-justice issues. Drawing insights from conversations with over a hundred organizations, activists and individuals with lived experiences, the Business Guide to Advancing Climate Justice highlights the challenges facing businesses in understanding and addressing climate justice with principles grounded in the experiences of the communities most affected. By advocating for a systems-change approach and fostering a mindset shift, the guide urges businesses to recognize their sphere of control and influence — emphasizing accountability, shared profits and supporting frontline communities.

Jen Stark, Co-Director of BSR’s Center for Business & Social Justice, then shared her organization’s Social Justice Guide for Business — also developed to help Corporate America navigate this evolving landscape. The guide stresses that social justice encompasses more than just racial concerns and that many companies have overstepped and underperformed in their past responses to social-justice issues. By focusing on US-based, midsized companies, the guide aims to go beyond preaching to the choir and encourages practitioners to unpack the meanings behind key concepts including human rights and social justice.

Stark said these approaches are as much about making a business case as it is future-proofing operations and fostering preparedness, competency and awareness of blind spots in a rapidly changing socio-political landscape. “Companies need to do a 360 analysis of themselves and the landscape,” she said. “Think about cause and effect on how the company can show up.”

Guides such as these not only underscore the urgency of action but also provide realistic steps for businesses to embed principles of social and environmental justice into their operations, ultimately empowering them to become agents of positive change.