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Update Day 2 – Sustainable Brands Conference 2013 in San Diego – June 4th

Blogginlägg   •   Jun 05, 2013 17:18 CEST

The theme of the conference is ”From Revolution to Renaissance” and I think than one of the best ways to visualize this would be what we now see happening within the car industry, the classic combustion engine is starting to die, replaced by the electric engine. The Renaissance of the car has begun.

On another note, and a perhaps more worrying one, the moderator of the day, Mark Lee from SustainAbility, once again mentioned the already classic Patagonia campaign "Do not buy this jacket". It is still a very good example but I find this to be a sign of poverty within Sustainable Communications today.

Bryan Welch - Author of Beautiful to Abundant

First up after Mark Lee was the charming gentleman Bryan Welch, author of "Beautiful to Abundant." Bryan said that he now sees a time approaching when it will be impossible to be CEO of a company without having a firm background within sustainability. He went on to recommend companies to hire their very own journalist, send them out in all different parts of the organization to find everything positive as well as negative about the business. By doing this, companies will own their narrative. Bryan also mentioned that we have to talk to consumers about “doing good things”, an obstacle today is that a lot of people do not want to be perceived as environmentalist – everybody wants to do good things but as it is right now, we have managed to put a separating mark on this behavior. The same way we have managed to separate sustainability from the core of the brand.

Uwe Dreher – BMW i

'A future without tradeoffs" is BMW's philosophy when they stand ready to launch their electric car fleet BMW i. Their aim it to combine luxury, comfort and sustainability. With BMW i as their tool, they want to lead the upcoming paradigm shift in the industry, going from combustion engines to electric engines. Apart from the engines, 95% of the material in the cars is recoverable and 100% of the batteries reusable within other industries such as solar or wind power. The most interesting part of this venture is how it all began; BMW is an extremely market research-driven company. 7 years ago they started seeing global shifts in consumers demands. In order to handle this, the company launched BMW i. This largely intersects with what we (at Sustainable Brand Insight) want to communicate; companies´ that are unresponsive to these shifts will not be tomorrow´s market leaders. Ask yourself how your company is doing.

Uwe Dreher, Head of Marketing at BMW i, mentioned in closing that at the moment, this is a venture that costs large amount of money with the ROI being further down the road. Confidently, he ended by saying that "the world is ready".

Bill Shireman – Future 500

The President and CEO of Future 500, Bill Shireman, shared his thoughts on they way we should combine purpose and power, the first one being possessed by NGOs and the second one by companies. As good examples of this, Bill mentioned initiatives such as the US Climate Task Force, BICEP and BSR. Bill also mentioned that we have to stop demonizing consumers that are unwilling to act in a sustainable manner. Instead we must humanize them by understanding their situation and making it easier to do good things.

John Havens - Happathon

A little later, John Havens, founder of the Happahton project, inspired us by playing the blues harmonica on stage. The Happathon project aims to measure people's happiness and the things that give them meaning in life. It is all based on research showing that altruism increases our joy. By identifying the basis of this joy and the things that make consumers feel good, we will be able to determine how to get consumers to act in a certain way. By collecting this data, consumers will also be their own data brokers. Instead of large corporations selling data about us, we will be able to control this data ourselves – John called this “Little data” as oppose to the ongoing discussion about “Big data”.

The afternoon session, led by John Havens, offered further insight into the collection and use of data. A good example of consumer behavior came from Lucid Design Group. They arranged a contest within energy saving between two buildings at a university campus. All students could see the real time energy consumption of their building, hence the effects of their actions. The will to win this contest was so strong that students finally removed lights out of emergency exit signs. This behavior might seem unsustainable on a short-term basis, but in the long run, we can be sure that these students will never look at these lights in the same way again. Every time they will pass emergency exit signs in the future, they will think about the amount of energy consumed by these lamps.

Another good, and perhaps even more telling, example of how one must speak with consumers was when the city of London tried to get people to commute more by talking to them about global warming and London being under water in the future. This had no effect. The thing that finally created a real behavior change was billboards of Uma Thurman getting on a bus. Think about this when designing your future communication efforts (of course, we would love to help you with this).

William McDonough – Cradle to Cradle

This second day of the conference ended with a great speech from William McDonough, among many other things the author of Cradle to Cradle. William is a great inspiration to many and from time to time there was an almost religious feeling in the auditorium. William spoke about us having to rethink the way we look at sustainability, at the moment we are focused on going to zero – zero emissions, zero waste etc. “Zero is not good, zero is where you start”, argued William, blaming companies for looking at sustainability as some sort of “maintenance”. He also wanted us to replace “reduce, reuse, recycle” with “redesign, renew, regenerate”. I encourage you to read more about William here.


To summarize, I would like to encourage you to improve the way you look at sustainability in your business, especially if you are selling consumer goods or services. Then you really need to talk less about boring sustainability stuff and more about “doing good things” – everybody likes to good things, especially if it makes them happier!

Erik Hedén 

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