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Update Day 3 – Sustainable Brands Conference 2013 in San Diego – June 5th

Blog post   •   Jun 17, 2013 11:08 BST

Wednesday´s theme was innovation and the day started with a very inspiring artist called Tyler McNaney. He told the story of how his nerve disorder made one hand shake, obstructing him in his artist career. He then went to his doctor who told him to “embrace the shake”. With this in mind, Tyler went on to create some great works of art. You can see some of his work here.

The point of Tyler´s story was that we must embrace our limitations and learn to be creative within the confines of these limitations.

Terracycle – Tom Szaky
The founder of Terracycle, Tom Szaky, went on to give us some great cases about handling waste. He started by explaining that waste today is the result of two factors; consumption and complex materials. The solution up to now has been to either burn it or bury it and Tom argued that we have to eliminate the problem, not just handle it.

A particularly interesting case that Tom mentioned was the “Butt Sack”, an idea that Terracycle came up with when goofing around at the office. Cigarette butts has in our environment has been a problem for quite some time now. The team at Terracycle invented a small envelope with aluminum inside and a preprinted address on it. Whenever people finished smoking they could put the cigarette butt in the Butt Sack and as soon as the sack was full, they could drop it in the mail. Apart from the obvious humorous aspect, it is also a way to provide an easy-to-use product. Tom closed with the advice that companies should embrace their issues, not avoid them. Make sure to get the issues out in the open, before consumers do.

Back to the roots – Nikhil Arora & Alejandro Velez
After Tom, two young and energetic innovators from California took the stage. Nikhil and Alejandro have started a company called “Back to the Roots". They met at school and were united by their will to try cultivating mushrooms in coffee grounds. Despite cautionary words from existing mushroom farmers they proceeded with their project. In a relatively short amount of time they have managed to sell their coffee ground-cultivated mushrooms to chains like Whole Foods, Nordstrom and Home Depot. Their first product looks great and is really quite amazing, apart from reusing coffee grounds, the product is easy to use - you open the box, put it on the kitchen counter and then you have fresh mushrooms growing after just a couple of days.

One specific piece of advice from Nikhil and Alejandro was "CTRL C + Ctrl V", feel free to copy existing initiatives and make them your own. I think this is important to emphasize since many companies today are so afraid of doing things that even remotely reminds of other companies´ initiatives. I suggest you go and have a look at Where Good Grows, Thomas Kolsters´ latest initiative that allows you to recycle Sustainability Initiatives.

Philips – Natasha Davidson
Natasha spoke to us about Philips´ initiative creating Community Light Centers in Africa. By creating these centers, they are able to see all kinds of positive effects for locals such as the opportunity to study in the evening, play sports (improved health), cook and also feel safer. It is interesting to point out that Philips´ mission has been "Improving people's life through meaningful innovation" for the last 100 years. I feel that this is a very good example of how a company can search their own history to find things that are very valuable within both sustainability and communications. Most companies were created to make people´s lives better.

Afternoon Session - The Future Beyond Advertising
This session may actually have been the best one so far at the conference. A panel discussion with Jeff Rosenblum from Questus (one of the producers of The Naked Brand movie), Dara O´Rourke from GoodGuide, Jonathan Atwood from Unilever and Joe Brewer from DarwinSF. The discussion started off on the note that the possibility of a consumer being in a plane crash is actually greater than the possibility of that consumer clicking on a banner at a website.

Culture, not corporations, rules the world today. What we now see is the rise of civil society where consumers have all kinds of tools at their disposal. Social media is one very powerful tool at the moment but the underlying behavior is about much deeper patterns; culture, relations and networks. This means that the idea of “one to many” communication or advertising is quickly dying. Now, it is all about “many to many” where consumers are in the power seat and companies need to learn that they have no control over this development. The best way to handle this situation is to accept that the road ahead will not decided by the company, but by the consumers, hence the need to act with integrity strengthens.

The panel also emphasized the importance of telling consumers about the journey the company is on. It is OK not to be perfect, as long as you have a plan and are able to speak to people in a meaningful way, explaining your shortcomings and even actively encouraging people to find these shortcomings. A lot of companies do not understand this, which makes me sure that we will probably see the fall of some great brands in the years to come.

Another great case, connecting to Tuesday’s example with Uma Thurman getting people to actually commute in the city of London (see above), is the Ekocycle project from Coca-Cola. Artist approached Coca-Cola after experiencing that people going to Black Eyed Peas concerts were not actually using the recycling bins. In order to make recycling a bit cooler Coca-Cola, along with Levi´s and Adidas, has created the Ekocycle project. The aim is to get people to understand that “waste is only waste if you waste it”. Make sure to see one of their ads here.

When walking around the Solutions Expo at the conference I stumbled upon Kohl Gill, founder of the company Laborvoices. He told the story of how his company provides a mobile phone portal for workers to review their employers. The way they do this, they can quickly get the accurate information of labor conditions in countries such as Bangladesh. To me, it sounded fascinating and I urge you to go and check out there website here.

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