This week at SB’22 San Diego, over 1K sustainability practitioners have converged to share insights, tools, inspiration and opportunities for collaboration with the goal of building a regenerative future for all. Here, we hear highlights from our day three keynotes, which featured pioneers disrupting and upleveling a variety of industries.
Wednesday’s plenary session highlighted a range of innovators and organizations driving on-the-ground impacts in a host of environmental and social issues critical to solving the climate crisis.
Clearloop CEO and co-founder Laura Zapata kicked things off by challenging attendees to acknowledge that the clean energy transition needs to put equity and access front and center — she asserted that “net zero” will be a fallacy without ensuring that under-resourced communities around the world have access to clean energy. Marking the 23rd anniversary of her family’s immigration to the United States, she highlighted Clearloop’s work partnering with companies of all sizes that want to offset their carbon emissions by building new solar projects — helping to ‘green the grid’ and expand clean energy access, especially in underprivileged communities such as the company’s initial project in Jackson, Tennessee; and newer projects in the Mississippi Delta, one of the country’s poorer regions where over 80 percent of energy is created from fossil fuels.
“As we’re thinking about this big planetary problem, ensure that this transition looks and feels like our community,” she said, “so more of us see us in this transition.”
Next, John Hanselman, founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Vanguard Renewables, explained another avenue of carbon removal — through repurposing food and farm waste. He noted that most waste in the US hasn’t evolved in terms of handling in generations. Through the Farm Powered Strategic Alliance, Vanguard is working with a range of brands to expand supply of natural gas produced from organic waste.
Next, Steven Stanley, Chief Commercial Officer at LanzaTech, continued the carbon-capture conversation — which his company considers all the way through the stream of use. He highlighted examples such as the recent partnership with Swiss shoe company On to repurpose captured carbon into shoe soles. He also stressed the value of partnerships and a culture of innovation in creating long-lasting transparency and emphasizing communication up and down the value chain.
Shifting to the kitchen, Tara Helms — Electrolux’s director of sustainability, North America — presented the company’s GRO platform, which takes into account a person’s dietary and shopping habits to help reframe how the average person uses their kitchen, on a path to improving nutrition and eliminating food waste. “This is not to show one product, but a better future,” she noted. The platform will also look to highlight new ways of consuming protein, produce and more.
Speaking of protein, Air Protein founder & CEO Lisa Dyson — whose company has created a carbon-negative process for literally producing protein from air — used a technology lens to shift perspectives on the impact of bovine agriculture, breaking down how her company’s proprietary “air fermentation” process has exponentially less impact than the raising and processing of the standard cow.
The conversation then moved to biodiversity, where leaders from Procter & Gamble and McCormick & Company highlighted large-scale efforts to improve environmental and social conditions through responsible sourcing.
“People only really care about the impact of what we do,” said Michael Okoroafor, McCormick’s Chief Sustainability Officer. He used an example of smallholder farms and how investing in responsible ways of supporting these small producers creates tangible impact up the value chain.
Alex Keith, CEO of P&G Beauty, echoed much of this sentiment — but added insights from an intricate software platform the beauty giant uses to track and analyze sourcing data for its Herbal Essences brand in an effort to increase transparency in support of broader impact goals.
From big beauty to major retail, Amanda Nusz and Stephanie Grotta from Target held an informal discussion about the brand’s Target Forward initiative — aiming to provide solid business growth through an equitable and regenerative lens. Both spoke about unlocking purpose and tracking that progress in meaningful ways; one example is through a sustainable cotton partnership with Bridgeforth Farms — one of the US’ only Black-owned cotton farms.
The most powerful conversation of the morning was a candid discussion about mental health at two brands with significant cultural relevance.
L-R: Taryn Bird, Elyse Cohen and Tramaine EL-Amin
“The evolution of the mental health conversation is obvious, based on us being here on this stage,” said Elyse Cohen, VP social impact & inclusion at vegan makeup brand Rare Beauty. Joined by Taryn Bird, Senior Director of social impact at Kate Spade, the duo spoke about the challenges of meeting the moment as a brand trying to navigate and support the increased awareness and tough conversations around mental health.
Tramaine EL-Amin — Chief Experience Officer for Mental Health First Aid at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing — moderated the mini-session and helped illustrate how important the moment is for companies attempting to improve their own support systems around mental well-being.
“There are huge gaps in funding for women’s-specific mental health issues,” Bird noted, calling on the importance of philanthropic and corporate partnerships to fill in the gaps when creating viable solutions and support systems.
Cohen added how investing in mental health was a “no-brainer,” especially considering founder Selena Gomez’s public struggles with bipolar disorder. Her perspective was unique in that Cohen was involved in crafting the brand’s mission from the start, allowing Rare Beauty to take an intrinsic focus on supporting mental health.
All three speakers urged that we’re at a critical moment not only of collaboration, but also of promise in mental health.
“We’re starting to embrace the perfectly imperfect,” Bird said. “Mental health experiences can be challenging and brutal … but we have to make a commitment to destigmatize — and as a collective,find ways to live with resilience that’s real.”