Sustainable Brands Detroit Shares a New Vision for “The Good Life”

This week, the Cone Communications team headed out to Sustainable Brands in Detroit for four days of conversation around "Redefining the Good Life." From inspirational plenaries to tours experiencing the resurgence of Detroit, the week focused on what a new “good life” could mean – a shift from “better, faster, more” to perhaps a new definition focused on authenticity and mindful simplicity.

The conference was replete with bright ideas and concepts, but here are four key insights – some big and some small – that stood out to us:

  • The Shift From “Less Bad” to “More Good”: Sustainability leader William McDonough kicked off SB’17 Detroit with a plenary speech on a concept that was echoed throughout the four-day conference – a shift from thinking of sustainability in terms of doing less harm to viewing it more as what could be done to positively benefit the world. He drove the point home saying, “doing less bad is still doing bad, just less so.” The idea was echoed in a morning session led by Elisabeth Lavill, founder of Utopies, where she explained companies should still work to reduce the “bad” such as GHG emissions and waste, but at the same time increase the more aspirational aspects of business that could drive positive change.
  • Collaboration is a Key to Progress: In a session focused on how big brands can learn from sustainability-minded entrepreneurs, Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss & Co. shared the success of its LS&Co. Collaboratory fellowship program – a program which provides funding and support to budding entrepreneurs putting the environment at the forefront of their fledgling businesses. Alongside him on the panel was John Moore, Creative Director at Outerknown, one of the brands that has benefited from the program. Moore described the impact having “the keys to the Levi’s kingdom” had on the company’s ability to learn and scale. And in a strong signal of the need for collaboration across industries and organizations, Erin Meezan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Interface closed her plenary speech with a simple message emblazoned on the screen: “Steal these slides.”
  • Values Must Lead: A central topic of conversation during SB’17 was how brands could navigate today’s divisive political environment. A question from the audience spurred Jonathan Atwood of Unilever to share the purpose-driven brand’s approach to standing up for issues, “Use the value lens first, then apply that to the issues lens. Understand who you are. It will be exhausting chasing where you stand on each issue versus knowing where you already stand.” Jennifer Lindenauer, CMO of Upworthy, emphasized the importance of company values in Wednesday’s plenary speech, noting, “If you don’t stand for something, you won’t stand for long.”
  • Embracing All: Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya joined the plenary stage to share his journey as an immigrant to the United States and how this has shaped his own approach to diversity and inclusion at Chobani. Now, thirty percent of the workforce represents sixteen different nationalities. Ulukaya shared how being comfortable with differences can lead to great opportunity, “Come to the table as you are, and something magical will come from that.” During a lunchtime conversation focused on enhancing diversity within the sustainability industry one audience member astutely pointed out that companies must support diversity not only within their own organizations but also advocate for inclusion on a broader scale – on the national and global stage.

Although SB’17 Detroit may have come to a close, the ideas shared during the four-day event will fuel the world’s leading CSR practitioners for months – and years – to come as we all do our part to find our own definition of “The Good Life.”

What does “The Good Life” mean to you? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter by using the hashtag #ConeCSR.