In her opening address Tuesday at SB ’14 London, Sustainable Brands founder KoAnn Skrzyniarz confronted the audience with a challenge: Reimagine what an economy might look like if it was based on trust.
“The big root of the conversation we’ve been having this year is about connecting head and heart,” she said.
Reflecting that it had been “an explosive year” on many fronts, with key battles on ideology taking place across the world, Skrzyniarz said the passion for interlinking sustainable business with social value was growing: “As we continue to have this conversation around the world, more communities are coming to us, asking us to localise the conversation,” she revealed.
The two event MCs — Forum for the Future chief executive Sally Uren and The Guardian’s executive editor Jo Confino — echoed this. “If we think differently, the world around us changes,” reflected Confino. “We need to change from profit maximisation to purpose.”
One emerging business mindset is holonomic thinking, which blends a series of disciplines together such as biomimicry, life cycle analysis, spirituality, interconnectedness, philosophy, literacy and physics. The first two speakers of the morning, Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson, co-authors of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, showed how the approach could be applied with a case study on a Brazilian hospital — a not-for-profit organisation that was keen to embed the philosophy into its culture.
A series of holonomics workshops helped break down social hierarchies within the hospital environment, enabling all levels of staff to have greater involvement at a strategic level. At its core, holonomics brings forth five universal human values — peace, truth, love, right-action and non-violence.
“These are extremely powerful because they speak directly of relationships,” Robinson said. “It’s not enough just to measure a brand economically, we connect with brands through feeling.”
Next up was Aly Khalifa, founder of Lyf Shoes, who talked about completely disruptive product design paradigms. His business model seeks to readdress what he calls the ‘ugly’ footwear industry, by creating 3D-printed, customised shoes through a localised, closed-loop model. Calling landfills a “cop out,” Khalifa added to his argument by revealing that in the US, 96 percent of all footwear is made at least 10,000 miles away.
Andrea Frenzel, SVP at BASF, talked about the importance of an integrated approach to sustainability to help steer solutions at product level. For a company operating in 80 countries worldwide, with 380 production sites, she stressed that for BASF, product sustainability had to be placed within the overall context of corporate strategy and strategic planning.
BASF’s sustainability approach resonates on five levels: stakeholder and communication; employees and engagement; strategy and organisation; assets and operations; business and innovation. Once a product’s sustainability performance has been evaluated in terms of its application, action plans are developed around strategy, R&D and market approach.
“Up to this point we have judged about 85 percent of our product portfolio with this approach,” Frenzel told delegates. BASF clusters its solutions into four categories — accelerator, performer, transitioner and challenged — the latter two being about identifying the gaps that need bridging. “We will always have transitoners and challengers,” she noted. “Either legislation changes, market changes or consumer expectations change.”
Matthew Yeomans, founder of Sustainly, then presented a lighter touch with his examination of how brands can communicate better using social media. His company’s just released Big Brand Report explores how 15 of the world’s biggest FMCG companies are using Facebook as a platform to influence consumer behaviour.
“Of the 195 brands we considered, only 74 used Facebook to communicate sustainability information and messages in any way to their ‘fans’,” Yeomans said. “What we have here is a failure to communicate. Part of this comes down to brands not trusting consumers and consumers not trusting brands.”
The bravest talk of the morning came from David Wheldon in his role as head of brand, reputation & citizenship at Barclays Group. He admitted that over the past 30 years, the financial services industry had “made a woeful mistake” by not putting the people it serves first. He joined the bank in 2012 to help put things right.
“We needed to re-find our way. 35 values appeared to be in operation at Barclays … we needed to get to a core set of values,” he revealed. A deep re-examination exercise was undertaken to streamline these attributes, and 1,500 values leaders were appointed within the business to train up each member of staff.
Barclays has now developed a balance scorecard that measures and rewards employee performance against five Cs: customers, colleagues, citizenship, conduct and company. Initially 130 key staff were measured against it — this year, it is being rolled out to every employee. Wheldon called it “a deeply profound exercise to ensure that our behaviour changes” and revealed that it was “not a journey for everybody — an awful lot of people have left Barclays.”
Challenged by Jo Confino on the issue of large bonuses, which many banks still pay to their top staff, Wheldon replied: “It’s a market economy where bankers earn a particular amount of money [but] it has to be changed over time. The balance scorecard should start to put that right.”
Next up was Heineken International’s director for global sustainable development, Michael Dickstein, who touched on the importance of collaboration between sustainability and marketing. “We needed to share a common mindset with our marketing colleagues,” he said.
Some of this has been delivered at Heineken through clever televised campaigns on responsible drinking and Dickstein gave the audience a sneak preview of its latest campaign, Legendary 7 — “so new, we haven’t launched it yet.” Details are sketchy, but the company is exploring ways it can use on-pack messaging, activated through smartphone devices, to tell sustainability in more creative ways.
Creativity was also the theme of B&Q’s customer & marketing director Chris Moss’s talk. He pointed to a recent packaging innovation, led by one of his staff, to phase out peat and polystyrene from the trays of the small bedding plants that B&Q sells.
The polystyrene, which is difficult to recycle, has been replaced by plastic made of recycled bottles, and the plants within are packaged with self-contained biodegradable ‘teabags’ made from cornstarch. Each “EasyGrow” bag is filled with coir, a natural fibre extracted from waste coconut husks, which also provides nutrients to the plants.
“Our sales of these plants have gone up by more than a million a year … it was a really powerful lightbulb moment,” Moss said.
A more offbeat CSR rebranding exercise came from Rich Kylberg, VP of corporate communications at Arrow Electronics — the day’s only B2B supply chain company. Arrow is one of the world’s largest suppliers of electronic components and has just launched a ‘Heroes of Innovation’ campaign to demonstrate how forward-thinking its business is in terms of future end-of-life electronics recovery.
The campaign is part of a wider drive at the company, which doesn’t have a publicly recognisable product it can point to, to help cement its identity and make it more visible to the wider business community — and the public. “Anonymity comes at a price,” Kylberg said. “If you don’t tell your story about who you are and what you believe, others will tell it for you.”
The morning closed with Mathieu Delcourt from Intermarché, who drew cheers from the audience for his company’s drive to cut supply chain food waste by promoting sales of misshapen fruit and vegetables in France. The company’s ”Inglorious Fruits” campaign has won the hearts of French shoppers and resulted in a 24 percent traffic increase throughout its stores.
Delcourt said that buyers had been sceptical at first, but consumers quickly responded to the campaign’s simplicity and authenticity.
“Consumers understood they can have a good product, even if it is ugly or twisted,” he said.