Walking the Talk
Are We on the Path to Systemic Change … or to Something Only Slightly Better?

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 two keynotes, which centered around resurfacing past lessons to propel us forward.

Sally Uren

Tuesday morning’s plenary began with inspiration from Dr. Sally Uren, Chief Executive at Forum for the Future, who shared five dreams and four “false choices” on the concept of looking back to look forward. She spoke about the crossroads of this moment in time; and, reflecting similar sentiments from Bill McDonough’s keynote on Monday, asked everyone in attendance to consider, “Is it going to be a path where we deliver systemic change or the path where we do something only slightly better?”

Through her false choices construct, Uren shared the following takeaways: 1) focus on both environmental and social impacts; 2) examine the big impact areas with a system; 3) the need for brand collaboration, not competition; 4) the false choice between growth through increased profit vs. making investments in sustainability.

L-R: Cindy Drucker and Andrew Benett

Next on stage were Cindy Drucker and Andrew Benett from ESG Consulting Solutions at PwC, who shared a data-filled presentation on connecting the dots between ESG and brand health.

One of the major dots centered about stakeholder centricity and the need for a shift around stakeholder mindset. According to Drucker, it is widely accepted in business that customer-centric businesses are more successful than their peers. She took it one step further by suggesting that brands should treat employees, suppliers, investors, regulators — all stakeholders — with the same focus and attention that they do customers.

Benett pointed to ESG leaders such as Microsoft, Walmart and Unilever: “The standouts for ESG performance share certain traits — they have a cadre of stakeholders they really know, ESG is embedded into the corporate culture, and they elevate their role above the category as a leader.”

Next, Jane Ewing, SVP of Sustainability at Walmart, and WM SVP and Chief Sustainability Officer Tara Hemmer then shared insights from their companies’ partnership to address material recovery and behavior change at the consumer level. Ewing shared that Walmart has gone bagless in its Canada and Mexico stores and they are working to introduce it in certain states in the US.

After the break, SB’s VP of Content and Brand Storytelling, Sam Monnie, sat down with Katie Decker — President of Global Essential Health, Healthy Lives and Global Customer Development at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health — to discuss the company’s Healthy Lives Mission — a commitment to invest $800 million through 2030 to improve people’s health while protecting the health of the planet.

“No way would we have gotten where we are without being driven by our people. You have to partner together. There are too many unknowns and technological challenges,” Decker said.

L-R: Alison Lewis and Sally Uren

Uren then returned to the stage for a fireside chat with Alison Lewis, Chief Growth Officer at Kimberly-Clark. Lewis, who came to her role at the 150-year-old company in 2019 from a non-sustainability capacity, shared her thoughts on the evolution of her role and how to work with the C-suite at legacy companies. One key piece of advice for practitioners is to empower local markets by giving individuals sustainability goals and letting them be drivers of innovation.

“Finding solutions that drive sustainability and growth is a massive win, especially in challenging economic times,” Lewis said. “Crisis is the best time to make the biggest changes; so, use this time to get management to bet on some game-changers.”

L-R: Khalilah Olokunola and Tish Archie Oliver

The morning plenary wrapped with an insightful conversation between Tish Archie Oliver — Head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging, North America at Unilever and Khalilah (“KO”) Olokunola, former Chief People Officer at TRU Colors Brewing.

“Belonging is not a new topic. What’s changed is how we understand it and how we unpack it,” KO said.

Unilever performed a comprehensive assessment to understand the state of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) throughout its organization by having leaders discuss using DEIB as a driver of business growth and conducting an employee survey. The results informed a five-year learning journey roadmap to improve equity and belonging at the company.

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