Sustainable Brands ’13: Hope and Strategies for the Future

Jun 25, 2013 3:30 PM ET

By: Judy Sandford
Senior Strategist, Sustainability Communications

I attended the recent Sustainable Brands ’13 conference themed “From Revolution to Renaissance” and gained insights into the future of business and brand sustainability. Some sustainability conferences are all doom and gloom about the future, but this one had an upbeat attitude with a lot of hope based on solutions.

Part of that hope was generated by entrepreneurs with ideas for improving society and lessening impact on the planet—everything from a phone network for workers to report abusive working conditions—to paper laced with organic spices that extend the life of produce. There were also start-ups that make oils from algae and bioplastics from methane.

Hope was also generated by one of the founding fathers of sustainability in design, William McDonough. His latest book, “The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability-Designing for Abundance,” serves as a guide for companies to not only be “less bad” but also be “more good.” He touted that you need both efficiency (doing things the right way) and effectiveness (doing the right things). In his upcycle thinking, everything is food—as in nature, there is no waste.

McDonough also announced a Sustainable Innovation Collaborative with Waste Management to literally take design “up from the dumpsters.” For him, the conference theme “From Revolution to Renaissance” means going from the three Rs of “reduce-reuse-recycle” to “redesign-renew-regenerate.”

Another established expert, Bob Willard, spoke about The New Sustainability Advantage. Since 1985, he says, the value of companies has flipped from 80 percent book value/ 20 percent intangibles to 20 book/80 intangibles. With stakeholders becoming more vocal, strong intangible value and long-term thinking on the part of companies make them more sustainable. He sees this new balance as enhancing businesses with a more resilient model, going from the linear “take-make-waste” to the circular “borrow-use-return.”

And finally, Bill Shireman of Future 500 shared his vision of finding common good opportunities from conflicts. His organization works with opposing groups and brings them together with power and purpose. He sees partnerships such as the U.S. Climate Task Force, BICEP and BSR as models of how companies can work together to accomplish common goals. Shireman recommended several things that need to be done by both the left and the right to move forward successfully. They center around shifting taxes from payroll to pollution, winding down subsidies, and funding R&D for radical efficiency and renewable solutions.

To read more about the conference and watch plenary videos, visit Sustainable Brands ‘13.