This week, members of the Porter Novelli team safely hit the road to San Diego for the return of the annual Sustainable Brands conference. This year’s hybrid event focused on “regeneration” and convened sustainability’s greatest thinkers and leaders from the world’s largest brands. The event was packed full of inspiring speakers, panels, and breakout groups, all talking about what regeneration meant to them – and what is needed to restore our planet. Here are key takeaways that popped out at us throughout the conference.
- It takes all of us. Over and over again, we’ve heard that we are all in this together, but, we must also find solutions together. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has shown that humanity is in code red, therefore the time has come to un-silo our work and collectively work toward faster, better solutions for the climate crisis. As Janine Benyus, Co-Founder of Biomimicry 3.8, said in the opening plenary, “We don’t have the time for everyone to figure it out on their own.”
- Storytelling makes a difference. Sandy Skees, Porter Novelli’s Global Lead of Purpose + Impact/ JEDI Services, opened the conference stressing the importance of communicating sustainability to stakeholders, but we have work to do to deliver these messages in a way that unites and engages. Heidi Hackemer, Executive Creative Director at Oatly, stresses the importance of engaging content and storytelling – “putting out a vibe people actually want to interact with.” After creating one the world’s “worst” Super Bowl commercials, the brand was able to capitalize on the attention to get people talking about a traditionally “boring” topic – plant-based products – for days after the big game. So, what can we learn from that? People will talk about climate solutions; we just need to meet them where they are.
- We need businesses to keep taking the lead. In the “Supporting Communities Disproportionately Affected by Social and Environmental Crises” session, we heard just how much of a difference brands, especially brand leaders, can make when they enter hard conversations. Celia Ouellette, Founder and CEO of Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, gave an example that once Richard Brandon, founder of the Virgin Group, joined their initiative, they started to see drastic systemic and lasting change and even buy-in from more than 150 more brands.
- “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We heard many speakers quote this proverb when talking about climate solutions. When trying to grasp the enormity of climate change, brands (and people) can feel overwhelmed and ultimately be frozen in their actions because they don’t know where to start. But what this conference brought home is that we must start somewhere. Small actions lead to big changes.
Andrew Winston, Co-author of “Net Positive” with Paul Polman, summed up the theme of SB’21 San Diego by saying, “We are now at the end of the beginning.” The private sector has grasped the need for climate solutions and should move toward taking authentic and intentional action. In his impassioned speech, Rick Ridgeway, Conservationist at Patagonia, quoted the last line in “The Summer Day” that we all should consider as we come together to put an end to climate change: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”