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Product, Service & Design Innovation
The Alchemy of Sustainability:
5 Forces That Will Drive More Meaning, Growth and Impact in 2014

At BBMG, we often use archetypes to help reveal a brand’s true character and provide a North Star for the products, services and experiences it can bring into the world.

My favorite is the Alchemist, whose core desire is to search out the fundamental laws of how things work and apply these principles to make things happen. The Alchemist integrates physical, environmental and spiritual elements to spark transformation in people, organizations and our times.

In 2014, we see an alchemy of economic, environmental and social values that will bring new opportunities for business and society, and we’ve identified five forces that will advance a more sustainable marketplace:

1. The Rise of E/co: The Company is the Ecosystem.

One of the lessons innovation draws from nature is the reality that all things are interconnected. Biomimicry reveals how nature provides elegant, efficient and beautiful solutions within an ecosystem where the success of the whole depends on the success of each part.

The Future of Packaging: Challenges and Key Directions for Innovation

Join us as Burt's Bees, Canopy, Smile Compostable Solutions and Sway share keen insights into the most promising trends, competing priorities and biggest hurdles around sustainable and regenerative packaging innovations — Wednesday, Oct. 18, at SB'23 San Diego.

Bill McDonough calls the 21st century the “ecological century,” and in 2014 we will see the deeper integration of the economy with ecology in a virtuous cycle of innovation and positive impact. Companies will drive value by creating ecosystems that integrate benefits to business, nature and society.

On the island of Majorca, Ecover is designing its business like a natural ecosystem by sourcing ingredients from locally available biomass waste streams and manufacturing cleaning products locally to meet local needs. By leveraging ecosystem thinking, the brand has created a global business opportunity with a new line of algal-based soaps that brings consumers “the ultimate natural cleaning system invented by nature, made through science and creativity.”

Similarly, Whole Foods Market is setting a new standard for ecosystem design with its new store in Brooklyn, NY, which features a 20,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse in partnership with Gotham Greens, a closed-loop energy system that is 60 percent more efficient than traditional stores and upcycled raw materials such as bricks and wood from local sources including the Coney Island boardwalk.

And in Brazil, beauty brand Natura’s ecosystem design harnesses the biodiversity of the Rainforest to inspire Sou, a new product line that features 80 percent plant-derived ingredients and packaging that uses 70 percent less plastic based with upcycled material from waste pickers cooperatives.

2. From Profit to Prosperity: Worth Beyond Wealth

One of the most profound impacts of the Great Recession has been the recognition that sustainable growth requires us to create more value with fewer resources and less negative impact on our society and planet.

Leaders of the world’s largest brands — including Unilever’s Paul Polman and Nestlé’s Paul Bulcke — are embracing shared value as a new business imperative, and sustainability pioneers such as Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard and Marc Bolland of Marks & Spencer are raising the new reality that there simply is no viable long-term future unless we decouple business growth from our natural resources.

Few companies are more committed to redefining value than our client partner Eileen Fisher. The sustainable fashion brand has achieved more than $400 million in sales by building its business strategy around the traditionally feminine values of empathy, deep listening and collaboration. Their goal is to create a movement that measurably enhances the worth, well-being and happiness of employees, suppliers, partners and community members. As the eponymous founder says, the brand seeks the "kind of leadership that values people working together, that values cooperation rather than competition and that makes room for having a full life."

These business leaders are being bolstered by a host of economists who are developing more holistic models to connect economic performance with personal and societal health and well-being to “measure what matters.” The New Economics Institute is redefining business value with an index that measures life expectancy, experienced well-being and environmental impact, while the H(app)athon Project envisions “The Happiness Economy” that unites aspects of the quantified self, big data and happiness indicators to create a new view of value beyond the GDP.

As Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogota, Colombia, explains, "An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport."

3. The Age of Desire: Aspirationals Will Inspire Next-Generation Commerce

Working with Ekocycle recently, we learned how artist and sustainable fashion entrepreneur is on a mission “to make better stuff cool and cool stuff better.”

Inspired by the convergence of sustainability, design and pop culture, Ekocycle is working in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company and brands such as adidas, Levi’s, New Era and the Hallenstein Brothers to market a portfolio of beautifully designed apparel and gear that’s made from at least 25 percent recycled plastic bottles (rPET) while setting a new standard for the future of fashion.

Similarly, the team at Nike is demonstrating that beauty, performance and sustainability are essential ingredients driving innovation and business success. The brand is building on the phenomenal impact of its Flyknit shoe with the release of its new ColorDry technology that delivers “the most saturated, intense and consistent color we’ve seen” while reducing dyeing time by 40 percent and energy use by 60 percent.

In the Age of Desire, brands are delivering products that are more beautiful, better quality and designed, made and used (and reused) with sustainability in mind.

This new reality is supported by our latest research across 21 countries that confirms more than two billion Aspirational consumers globally (36.4 percent of the population) who define themselves by their love of shopping (78 percent), desire for responsible consumption (92 percent) and their trust in brands to act in the best interest of society (58 percent).

Aspirationals matter because they are the first to unite materialism, sustainability and cultural influence, providing a powerful opportunity to act on a more integrated approach to marketing, branding and sustainability.

Simply put, with the Aspirationals, the sustainability proposition has changed from being the “right thing to do” to also being the “cool thing to do,” and brands have a profound opportunity to harness sustainable design and societal values to inspire the next generation of commerce and create positive impact in the world.

4. Look Again: Imperfection Will Redefine Quality and Beauty

Perfection is the enemy of good. This year, a new wave of brands in beauty, fashion, furniture and even food will redefine our expectations, prizing natural, authentic and highly individual definitions of worth, value and success.

Dove’s “Real Beauty” ethos is part of a new generation of natural beauty brands from Aesop and Intelligent Nutrients to Dr. Hauschka, and major players from Pantene and Garnier to L’Oréal Paris are taking a stand for the strength, beauty and impact of women that comes from the inside-out.

The idea of highly unique and individual beauty is also fueling the rise of movements toward craft and artisan-made products, as evidenced by the rapid growth of platforms such as Etsy and Zady.

For its new collection of home furnishings, design-forward retailer West Elm is making a $35 million investment to work with 20 artisan groups in 15 countries to bring more goods to market that tap consumer “passion for handcrafted products, concern for cultural heritage and the safety of the hands behind the work.” The brand is also curating local artisans in select markets to bring locally handcrafted furniture into its product selection.

Even food will experience a makeover in 2014, as former Trader Joe’s CEO Doug Rauch launches a movement to help address the crisis of food waste evidenced by the fact that Americans trash 40 percent of their food. By reframing “sell-by dates” and piloting a retail concept called Daily Table that sells and repurposes food just beyond its expiration date, Rauch is hoping to shift behavior on food consumption to reduce waste and fight hunger at the same time.

5. Generation Pivot: Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Resilience Inspire a Renaissance

Adversity breeds invention. If it’s not working, then we figure something else out.

With more than 75 million young people unemployed around the world, a new generation is confronting the recession by literally creating the work they seek.

In 2014, we will see a wave of self-startups uniting personal passion with professional aspiration to inspire a renaissance of creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship that will remake the marketplace.

This pivot is also being fueled by generational shifts. As Boomers retire and Generation X inherits the challenges of existing institutions, Millennials and Generation Z are reinventing how they learn, work, fund and create the ideas of the future.

Education startup General Assembly offers a variety of immersive programs, long-form courses, classes and workshops on skills such as coding, user experience design, business fundamentals, data science and product management. Their goal is to “transform thinkers into creators through education in technology, business and design” at nine campuses across four continents.

Similarly, Impact Hub represent a new breed collaborative community that bring together people, spaces and programs that empower members to realize enterprising ideas for sustainable impact. Part innovation lab, part business incubator and part community center, Impact Hubs offer a unique combination of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities to catalyze impact.

The cultural zeitgeist is elegantly captured by Brooklyn-based lifestyle company Holstee, whose print manifesto has reached 100 million people with an invitation to “do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. Go out and start creating. Live your dream and share your passion.”

“We believe the brands of the future will be deeply shaped by genuine values,” says co-founder Michael Radparvar. “And they will live these values in every breath of their presence."

Building on the convergence of economic, ecological and cultural values such as mutual relationship, transparency, diversity and collaboration, we believe these five forces will create an opportunity to move sustainability from siloed afterthought to embedded strategy that drives innovation, growth and impact at scale.

And this new alchemy will inspire disruptive solutions that change the way we do business and delightful brand experiences that create more joy, meaning, creativity, status and participation. The result will be more prosperity that can truly be shared by all.


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