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Reeve Insights from Sustainable Brands 2011

July 11, 2011

Flickr / kevincole

Corporate America was out in full force at Sustainable Brands 2011 (#SB11) recently held in Monterey, CA, and so were we!

Bringing together concepts of business strategy, sustainability and innovation, the 4-day event focused on the connections between sustainability as a driver of product design as well as a mechanism for engaging with customers and employees.

We had a great time, made some wonderful connections and were exposed to inspiring initiatives and concepts in the realm of corporate social responsibility.

Below we’ve summarized a few of our insights.

Sustainability case studies – a closer look at some inspiring initiatives

While the week was full of inspiring sustainability stories, there were a few case studies that particularly stood out for us (click on the links for more information).

  • Panera Bread, pay-what-you-can model – This American restaurant chain allows customers to choose the amount they pay for their meals. CEO Ronald Shaich shared that 20% of his customers pay more than the suggested donation while 20% leave less. By opening stores in diverse communities, Shaich has found higher-income people will offset the costs for their lower-income neighbours.
  • Hewlitt Packard, building the energy-smart home – Taking a closer look at home energy management, HP Labs has developed sensing technology and a cloud-based application that clearly illustrates a home’s energy use, allowing homeowners to easily monitor and manage energy consumption from their dishwasher to TV.
  • Nike, better world project – Earlier this year Nike launched the website nikebetterworld.com which highlights the company’s green programs such as the use of environmentally preferred rubber, jerseys made from recycled bottles, responsible packaging and more. The site also highlights the value of sport for addressing social issues, like HIV AIDS, obesity, even war.

Supply chains are a sustainability starting point

Supply chains were a prominent topic of discussion throughout the event and we were pleased to hear our colleagues recognizing supply chains as a key starting point for driving sustainability both vertically, through a business, and horizontally with customers.

One of the most encouraging supply chain initiatives we heard about was the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the goal of which is to improve the sustainability of apparel and footwear products by developing an industry-wide index for businesses to measure and evaluate their products’ social and environmental impacts. By pooling resources and knowledge, member companies hope to develop more sophisticated and uniform tools for evaluating their supply chains and engaging with suppliers on improvements. Founding members include Patagonia, Nike, Levis, Gap Inc., Mountain Equipment Co-op, Environmental Defense Fund and many others spread across North America, Asia, Europe and the U.K.

Collaboration is making sustainability initiatives stronger

As demonstrated by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, we found that collaboration was a strong theme throughout the event.

We attended a great session by Bonnie Nixon, Executive Director of the Sustainability Consortium, a mixed-discipline group that develops transparent methodologies, tools and strategies to address the environmental, social and economic impacts of products and supply networks. With nearly 100 global members divided into working groups focused on issues such as sustainable consumption, life cycle analysis of food, beverage and agricultural products, packaging, visualizing sustainability and much more, it’s encouraging to see so many large, recognized brands collaborating over social and environmental issues.

Life Cycle Analysis is gaining credibility

Another recurring subject at the event was life cycle analysis (LCA), and we were happy to hear about the increasing application of LCA tools to inform product-purchasing decisions. We believe more science is needed in analyzing the impacts of products. The field of LCA has made strides to become more credible in recent years and we look forward to hearing about further developments.

Flickr / limaoscarjuliet

Challenges exist in the form of capacity gaps

We heard repeatedly that a challenge facing many of the large companies attending Sustainable Brands 2011 is a capacity gap between the buyers that are expected to make sustainable purchasing decisions and the training, tools and resources they need to make the right decisions. This is a field that Reeve Consulting is active in and we see some interesting opportunities for building the capacity of purchasing staff.

Flickr / It's our city

Gamification for good

An over-arching theme of the conference was using games to affect behaviour change. A relatively new concept, gamification applies the fun of games to non-game applications.

We heard about examples where creating a competitive game environment has improved recycling and car-pooling rates. There was also a particularly convincing case study from Sweden where drivers were entered into a lottery for obeying speed laws, resulting in a 22% speed reduction. Wired.com has a wonderful little video describing the Sweden speed reduction project.

For more on the concept of gamification, Lorne Craig at Green Briefs (a fellow delegate at Sustainable Brands 2011) has put together a great post on the Gamification session.

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