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Day 3 keynotes regaled SB’23 San Diego attendees with a peek at regenerative, circular and win-win-win social-purpose business models.
On day three of SB’23 San
plenary kicked off with a lively introduction by Roma
McCaig, Vice Chair of the
Sustainable Brands® Advisory Board — who likened the evolution of the
telephone from rotary to smartphones to the rapid, ongoing evolution of the
The first guest in the plenary was Esha
Chhabra, who chatted with McCaig about her
book, Working to Restore: Harnessing the Power of Regenerative Business to Heal the World.
Chhabra described working as a journalist and growing disillusioned and wanting
to contribute to solutions spaces, and eventually deciding to write a book that
captured the stories of inspiring regenerative businesses through an
entrepreneurial lens. And she did just that — Working to Restore examines 30
companies around the
doing business through a regenerative lens.
The case studies include:
Marius Smit, founder of Plastic Whale — the
first company to build boats entirely out of plastic waste removed from our
oceans and waterways
Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, cofounders of
Veja — a footwear brand whose mission
it is to make the most ecologically sensitive shoes possible—
Konrad Brits at Falcon Coffees — a
trading company leading the way with a “collaborative supply chain” by
investing in the local farmers who grow and harvest coffee beans
“Chief Toaster” Rob Wilson and Tristram Stuart at Toast Ale — who partner with Wold Top Brewery to
upcycle surplus bread into an award-winning
Scott Fry and Martha Butler of Loving
Earth — a supply chain company that sources cacao
from indigenous communities and brings their people and practices to the
Chhabra said many of the companies she interviewed don’t use the word
“sustainability,” because they “don’t want to be seen as working to maintain the
Next up was Vertical Harvest co-founder and
CEO Nona Yehia, a daughter
of Lebanese immigrants, who — after surviving the civil war in Lebanon as a
child, emigrating to the US and becoming an architect — has dedicated her life
to building infrastructure for healthy living, food and community-building in
“Hope lies in the local,” she said.
Yehia believes infrastructure is key to fostering better human connection and
founded Vertical Harvest — which builds indoor vertical farms in urban centers —
with this mission in mind. Food, she says, is the strongest connector between
humans; and health and is a defining 21st-century issue.
The company built its first farm in Wyoming, has a new one in Maine, and
will open another in Detroit next year. In addition to offering these
communities hyper-locally grown, nutritious produce; the company hires from
within the communities — extending employment opportunities to differently abled
and developmentally challenged locals; and integrates with existing
infrastructure such as affordable housing to help foster a greater sense of
community in urban centers.
Yehia challenged the audience to ask themselves: “What’s your medium for change?
What kind of table are you setting? Who will you bring to the table? What does
it look like at the end?”
Image credit: Lonely Whale
Next, Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) Chief Sustainability Officer Nancy
Mahon announced the launch of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Accelerator
— dedicated to scaling seaweed-based alternatives to conventional,
petroleum-based plastic films and
The latest phase of an ongoing collaboration between ELC, its Tom Ford
Beauty brand and Lonely
Accelerator will facilitate the scaling and
market adoption of marine-degradable, seaweed-based alternatives to
conventional, fossil-fuel-based plastic films developed by three materials
startups — Sway, Zerocircle and Notpla
— that won the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation
earlier this year.
Next, Heidi Lim, Director of
Product Ecosystem at carbon-transformation company
Twelve, gave a look at how her company is leveraging
the countless opportunities presented by turning carbon emissions into chemical
Twelve’s technology takes captured carbon-dioxide molecules and turns them into
new chemicals that can be used in existing supply chains, in place of their
virgin-fossil-fuel-based counterparts. Lim calls the process “industrial
photosynthesis” — it uses renewable energy to split CO2 and water molecules into
carbon-based and hydrogen-based molecules; the byproduct of the process is
The potential of carbon transformation is vast; it is already being used to
create a wide range of products — including
— and holds great promise in closing the loop on fossil
Twelve has partnered with a number of leading brands —
including Mercedes, Microsoft, Pangaia, Shopify,
and various airlines; as well as with research organizations such as Munich
Re and NASA.
Watch this space to see the potential of carbon transformation to revolutionize the way we produce and consume goods.
Next, Kaitlin Chuzi — Director of
Biomimicry at Microsoft; and Seth
GaleWyrick, Senior Principal for
Engineering & Design at Biomimicry 3.8, aimed to
distill the likely intimidating prospect of creating a regenerative data center.
The two explained the concept of
biomimicry and how
their two companies are working together to make their shared vision of
designing data centers that go beyond being sustainable to integrating
seamlessly into the surrounding environment and fostering healthy biodiversity —
filtering air, cleaning water and providing habitat for plants and animals. They
acknowledged that this vision is not yet a reality, but they believe that the
technology is on the horizon and the work continues.
Chuzi and GaleWyrick outlined three simple rules for managing the complexity of
creating regenerative systems through biomimicry:
They also shared an example of how Microsoft is applying these principles in a
data center project in North Holland, Netherlands —working with the local
community to create a sustainable data center that also provides benefits to the
The presenters concluded by stating that they believe that regenerative data
centers — and a regenerative approach to business, overall — are possible; and
their two organizations are committed to working with others to make this vision
Commissioner of Public Lands at the Washington Department of Natural
Resources, closed Wednesday’s keynotes by shining a
light on the environmental and social injustices being perpetuated by our
current systems. She highlighted the disproportionate impact that climate change
has on low-income communities and communities of color, and the importance of
creating solutions that benefit both people and the planet.
Franz shared her vision for a future where we can heal both the land and our
communities. She spoke about her work with the Washington Department of Natural
Resources to restore 2.5 million acres of diseased forests in Washington state —
a project that is creating jobs in rural communities while also helping to
sequester carbon and improve air quality.
Franz also spoke about the importance of investing in renewable energy sources.
She cited the Kettle Falls
which converted a former coal-fired power plant into a biomass facility that
will generate enough clean energy to power 13,500 homes per year — reducing the
area’s reliance on fossil fuels and creating jobs in clean energy.
Franz's message was one of hope and possibility. She believes that we can create
a more just and sustainable future by working together to address the
environmental and social challenges we face.
Published Oct 20, 2023 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm 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.