Sustainable Brands Detroit: Transforming Brands to Deliver the Good Life

This week, the Porter Novelli/Cone team headed to Detroit for the annual Sustainable Brands conference, contributing to four days of inspirational conversation around transforming brands through sustainable innovation. The event brought together a diverse group of more than 2,000 passionate thought leaders and change makers to collaboratively address some of the most systemic issues we face on our path to creating a healthy, sustainable future.

 A series of thought-provoking plenaries, panels and workshop sessions encouraged attendees to approach sustainability and social impact at their organizations with a fresh perspective and renewed sense of Purpose. We’ve highlighted four of the key ideas and moments that stood out to us from the week:



·        Moving Consumers from Intent to Action: On Wednesday, Sustainable Brands and a group of multinational founding partners, including P&G, PepsiCo and Target*, joined together to formally launch Brands for Good, a movement to make sustainable living more attainable and rewarding for people around the world. Founding partners have committed to embed environmental and social Purpose into the heart of their business and use marketing and brand influence to inspire consumers to adopt sustainable lifestyles.

·        Human-to-Human Marketing: Valérie Hernando-Presse, Global CMO at Danone, took the plenary stage on Thursday and challenged brands to bring humanity back to marketing to better meet our current business and social environment. Consumers today hold more power over brands than ever, largely due to the rise of social media, while also demanding transparency and authenticity. She asked a simple question to articulate the business case for human-to-human marketing: “How can you build authentic trustworthy relationships with your tribes, if you are not authentic yourself?”

·        Disruption is Opportunity: On the SB plenary stage, Ben & Jerry’s* CEO Matthew McCarthy discussed the ice cream company’s approach to business activism, boldly claiming, “I’d rather fall while running, than fall while standing still.” As one of the most recognizable purpose-driven companies, Ben & Jerry’s has long understood that it has a responsibility to go beyond selling ice cream, leveraging its influence and loyal fan base to advance systemic social issues near to its heart. McCarthy highlighted recent company efforts, including voicing its support of the Black Lives Matter movement and releasing Pecan Resist, designed to peacefully resist regressive and discriminatory policies.

·        The Case for a Big Pivot: Consumers have increasingly called on brands to take a stand on issues beyond what is material to their business. To meet this challenge, more companies have chosen to make a “big pivot,” redefining what they stand for with a major commitment or disruptive business decision. Alison DaSilva, Executive Vice President at Porter Novelli/Cone, was joined by Lisa Manley, Senior Director of Sustainability Engagement & Partnerships at Mars*, and Joanne Dwyer, Senior Director of CSR at CVS Health*, to share their “big pivot” and its impact on their business. Mars launched its Sustainable in a Generation Plan in 2017, investing $1 billion to accelerate progress against urgent threats to sustainability, challenging all aspects of the business to be more ambitious. CVS Health shared the success of its decision to not materially alter its beauty imagery in store and online through its Beauty Mark program.  


Although SB’19 Detroit has come to a close, the ideas and solutions explored together as a community will help to move business and society toward a brighter future for years to come.