So, what do a slave-free chocolate brand, an activist bank and a blindfolded panel of diversity experts have in common?
Probably more than you’d think, and one thing for sure: They were all present on Thursday at the historic Carlsberg museum in Copenhagen for Sustainable Brands Nordic Community Gathering 2019 — a one-day event for the Nordic sustainability and brand community that served as a warm-up for this year’s SB main European event, Sustainable Brands Paris, taking place on 23-25 April.
Next generation asks, “Which green do you like?”
The roughly 170 delegates were greeted by signs and name tags hand-drawn by two girls, aged 9 and 14, to bring in the voices of the generation that’s going to pay the debt of our inaction. One tag that featured a picture of a tree and a dollar bill read; “Which green do you like?” And action was a recurring theme throughout the conference, showcasing the breadth of sustainability initiatives taking place across sectors, aiming to provide delegates with insight and inspiration from sustainability giants and grassroots actors alike.
Purpose is like Pokémon
Thomas Kolster — "Mr. Goodvertising" — moderated the event and called on delegates to be inspired by the younger generation, 40 percent of which see themselves as change agents. Before introducing Stanford professor James Ehrlich, he challenged the room to consider profit and purpose not as competing forces, but as complementary components, both necessary for companies to survive in the marketplace. Kolster also warned that purpose needs to be genuine and not a marketing gimmick, as he cautioned that for most brands “Purpose is like Pokémon: Everybody is searching for it, but few brands know why!”
The rest of the speakers drove home the need for authentic action, as delegates were shown time and time again how different companies are already using purpose-driven strategies and regenerative business models and products to grow.
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Examples started with ReGen Villages — self-sufficient villages, where Ehrlich has found a way to combine modern living with the regenerative principles of nature, enabling residents to live inside of the existing ecosystem instead of forcing themselves onto it as an add-on. Jon Khoo from Interface built on this by proving, through how it produces its now carbon-negative carpet tiles, that it is possible to not only minimize environmental damage, but to actually produce in a way that’s regenerative. Refreshingly, he finished by admitting that some of the major, environmental goals they had set for the company they had no clue how to solve — but that by setting them, regardless, and talking publicly about them, they were committed to finding ways to meet them.
Action inspires change
Sustainability isn’t just a climate issue; building a sustainable brand is as much about doing good by the people who work to produce your product. One such company working to provide a solution to the often-abusive conditions affecting an estimated 2.3 million children in the chocolate supply chain is Tony’s Chocolonely. By identifying the five steps involved with producing cacao, the company was able to establish a business that not only resulted in a great product but also aimed to end slavery. Tony’s Chocolonely Chief Evangelist Ynzo van Zanten paraphrased Christine Todd Whitman to emphasise the delegates’ role in creating change: “Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”
Enabling everyday action
An issue that likely impacts the day-to-day lives of the delegates is diversity in the workplace. Does it matter? One of the key points of the panel debate “Discussion in the Dark” — where panelists wore blindfolds and the room was completely dark — was that we should strive beyond diversity to create inclusive workplaces if we want to build brands that are sustainable in the future.
Ad agency Vertic then presented its Share of Life concept — describing the interconnections between brand and customer — and how brands can take ownership and nurture moments in people’s lives, an opportunity for brands looking to help consumers live more sustainably. Mathias Wikström from Doconomy then showed how, through an innovative new banking service for everyday climate action, the Swedish fintech startup has enabled people to reduce their daily carbon emissions with positive returns for both you and the planet.
The final key takeaway from the SB Nordic event revolved around data: Is it sustainable to leave our personal data in the hands of profit-focused companies? Does that really serve the interest of the individual consumer? Norwegian company Bolder thinks not — it is building a platform that enables individuals to decide with whom to share his or her data.
Thursday’s event was sponsored by Carlsberg Group, which finished off the event revealing its new Snap Pack packaging — launching in the months to come across markets — a great example of a small, innovative idea that can create change at scale.
The examination of what it really takes to “redesign the Good Life” will continue in Paris in April, and then in Detroit in June. In the meantime, the younger generations have their eyes locked on companies and are demanding action.