This year’s Sustainable Brands Conference in Detroit, MI centered on “Delivering the Good Life” with lively dialogue from brand, organization, commodity group and association leaders who are committed to positive transformations through sustainable innovation and meaningful social and environmental improvements within the communities they serve.
The action-packed conference featured nearly 2,000 global brand and sustainability experts, 300 sustainability and innovation leaders as speakers and 100+ companies and sponsors who are actively engaged in efforts to evolve their contributions to “The Good Life.” The path towards a more sustainable life, and therefore a more sustainable planet, is a journey, not a destination, and this year’s event focused on effective use of science, technology, storytelling and constructive partnerships to support and encourage lifestyle changes that help achieve sustainability goals.
Please note: the key themes and takeaways noted below were focus points of discussion/presentations; they do not necessarily reflect FoodMinds’ point of view.
Here are a few topline observations from this year’s sessions and expo:
- The Power of Sustainability Storytelling. One of the core tenants discussed during the conference was the importance of using effective storytelling in sustainability marketing, urging brands and organizations to put humanity and the personal nature of the issue front-and-center. None of this was more apparent than the plastics crisis, with a variety of sessions and speakers highlighting sobering statistics with impactful visuals, for instance, if our global use of single-use plastic continues at the current rate, oceans are expected to have more plastics than fish by 2050. Several powerful examples were shared by Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale, who shared their Strawless Ocean and Stop Sucking campaigns as well as Ben Von Wong who brings awareness to the issue through art.
- Unite to Move from Intention to Ambition to Action – A well-known African proverb notes “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is all to say that a series of small changes can add up to make a big difference when it comes to sustainability, so imagine the power of organizations banding together to move the needle even further. Sustainable Brands ’19 had a spirit of collective action via strategic partnerships with those who have like-minded values and goals unifying for positive change. During the second day of the convening, a group of powerful global brands announced the launch of the Brands for Good movement, which is dedicated to make sustainable living easier and more attainable though its work with leading experts in sustainability, innovation and marketing to harness brand reach, resources and influence.
- Trust, Transparency and Technology in Food Production – When it comes to trust in the food system, transparency is critical. During a breakout session on Sustainability Data Collection, Analysis, Reporting and Effective Communication, panel members discussed the importance of solving for sustainability issues along the supply chain and identifying ways retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and others can stack hands as an industry to agree on a common definition for sustainable agriculture. This may mean making data more accessible and embedded into systems farmers are already using as well as aligning on fundamental metrics and reporting. Further, the panel members challenged how sustainability should be viewed: moving away from a compliance-focused score and towards continual improvement and positive outcomes.
- The Circularity Challenge – One of the most often heard “buzzwords” of the week was the concept of circularity, or the idea of minimizing waste and making the most of available resources. Currently, our economy is only 9% circular, and there was collective agreement that there is a strong need for practical, alternative frameworks of conscious capitalism. Exhibitors and panel members alike suggested a move away from the regenerative approach of reduce, reuse, recycle to recoverable: planting more than we uproot, using only what we need and utilizing resources and materials that otherwise could end up in landfills. From innovation labs to on-site pledges, dozens of encouraging stories and divergent strategies emerged from the growing roster of companies on a mission to improve some of our most common products and services. Because ultimately, “The Good Life” is only “The Good Life” if it is accessible to all.
Connect with us at [email protected] to discuss how we can help your brand or organization engage with purpose and navigate the healthy and sustainable food systems space.
Natalie Shafer is a senior vice president at FoodMinds, a division of Padilla, in Chicago and lead of the Padilla|FoodMinds healthy, sustainable food systems team.