Sustainable Brands Detroit 2017 Confronting Challenges, Building Bridges

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — Here are some more takeaways from Sustainable Brands17 Detroit.

If we are to realize any kind of vision of a sustainable society, we must confront the idea that truth is negotiable. As author and consultant Andrew Winston said, “We need a working democracy, checks and balances, a free press.” We need the truth.  But what is the truth? For scientists and judges, the truth is found in facts. For most of the rest of us, the truth lies in the stories we choose to believe. As Upworthy’s Jennifer Lindenauer said in her “Trust is Tribal” talk, “facts fade, stories stick. Donald Trump tells stories that stick even though they are lies.” Why do they stick?  How does a liar get away with calling the bastions of journalistic integrity fake news? According to Lindenauer, it’s because the opposite of fake is authentic. Trump may have a myriad of deplorable qualities, but he is authentically Trump, and for better or for worse, for many, that authenticity begets trust. What that means for us is that we need to confront self-serving lies, with authentic stories of a sustainable future, that people will trust.

In 1987, Ronald Reagan said, ‘trust but verify,” with respect to a nuclear-arms deal with the former Soviet Union. Author Andrew Zolli described an ongoing effort by Planet Labs to take a complete, high-resolution picture of the entire Earth every single day. This will allow us to not only verify, but discover countless things that are happening on Earth, both as a result of human activities and the everything-else that we refer to as nature. For example, the images were able to detect a rapidly expanding illegal gold mining operation in Peru. As a result of the discovery, the operation was quickly shut down. While some might consider this type of truth and its consequences a form of “burdensome government regulation,” most of us would applaud it as a win for the planet. These photos could also be used to track deforestation, the growth of electricity, agricultural productivity, the growth or decline of deserts, rivers and lakes, the expansion of refugee camps, and with the help of sophisticated algorithms-- the loss of carbon due to land use changes. All these facts, could be used to fuel new and urgent stories that could potentially cut through the ideological fog. For example, as Zolli said, once we have a price on carbon, we can put a value on the forest that is being lost every day. At a time when EPA administrators are making policy that could impact the future of the entire biosphere, based on rumors and amateur science, such as the notion that there was a leveling off of warming over the past two decades, we need to verify before we can trust, as a number of scientists just did.

A similar capability can be found in Google’s Project Sunroof which can give you an instant estimate of your home’s solar energy potential. This was casually mentioned by Kate Brandt, Google’s Lead for Sustainability, as she described the company’s leadership role in renewable energy (100% this year), waste reduction (Maintain. Refurbish. Redistribute Recycle), and in its application of information technology for sustainable buildings through its Portico network, and its Quartz open database which both identify healthy materials. These aspirations are similar to those Apple is undertaking, along with a closed loop supply chain, as described by Sarah Chandler, Apple’s Director of Operations and Environmental Initiatives.

Sam Polk’s story of his journey from Wall Street to helping the homeless and the hungry was particularly high on the authenticity scale. While his Groceryships support groups, that taught good nutrition in underprivileged areas of LA, featured heartfelt sharing sessions that would resonate with Mother Theresa (“We’ve forgotten that we belong to each other”), his Everytable, highly-efficient, centrally-prepared food business that managed to produce and distribute nutritious chef-designed meals for only $4 each in these same neighborhoods while still turning a profit would likely elicit a “what’s not to like” from both sides of the aisle.

CSR communicator Annie Longsworth of the Siren Agency, spoke of how she made it a point to watch news outlets showing both sides, because, she said, “I think it’s really, really important that we understand lots of issues from lots of different perspectives. And it makes me understand that people who have a different set of beliefs than I do, feel as passionately about them as I do.”

Because, if the real truth is divided among the various stories we choose to believe, then perhaps we will only find the whole truth, by listening to various and diverse points of view.

That’s pretty much the same argument that Drew Nannis of the “not-just-for-profit” company KIND made. Sharing research that, “only 5% of people see social posts that differ greatly from their own worldview.” These ‘filter bubbles’ are dangerous in that they strengthen the tribalism that is now tearing at the fabric of our society. Nannis described an initiative launched last month by KIND called Pop Your Bubble, which works with Facebook to deliberately connect you with people that hold views others than yours. The idea is to build bridges. So far 60,000 people have signed on.

Perhaps if we were to reach out to connect more with those on the “other side” we might begin to see some linkages between our stories and working together, find solutions to our challenges that all of us can live with.