Sustainable Brands Attracts World’s Top Companies Focused On Sustainability-Led Brand Innovation

September 14, 2018

Less than a month after Vancouver became the first city in the world to adopt a comprehensive zero waste strategic plan and the first city in Canada to ban plastic straws and polystyrene containers, the city played host to Sustainable Brands, the annual global flagship conference of one of the leading corporate sustainability communities of brand innovators and sustainability professionals working to shape the future of commerce worldwide.

Held June 4-7 at the Vancouver Convention Centre and for the first time in Canada, Sustainable Brands drew more than 2,300 participants from across the globe, including representatives from some of the world’s largest global brands such as IBM, Target, Coca-Cola, The North Face, Radisson Hotel Group, IKEA, Harvard University and Hershey, as well as disruptive social entrepreneurs, NGOs, investors, academia and the stakeholders who support them.

With a pointed focus on why global corporations should step up to protect the health of the planet by embedding social and environmental purpose into the core of their brands, SB’18 featured four days of more than 300 speakers and panels, in an interactive expo called the Activation Hub, 10 conference tracks, networking opportunities and offsite activities.

“We were thrilled to convene the Sustainable Brands community in Vancouver this year, a city where innovation, sustainable living practices and cutting-edge design are interwoven with daily life,” said KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, founder and CEO of Sustainable Brands, which was launched in 2008 and is a division of San Francisco-based Sustainable Life Media.

She continued, “At SB’18 Vancouver, we (enjoyed) enabling collaboration and co-creation between global change-makers and local ones. Vancouverites were welcome to join our community for full conference programming and for networking and design-oriented sessions in the central hub of our conference, the Activation Hub.” 

To be renamed the Innovation Expo next year, the show’s Activation Hub featured 89 exhibitors representing brands with unique social and environmental innovations, some of them showcased within eye-catching, creatively designed exhibits. 

Speakers at SB‘18 included many of the world’s top leaders and thinkers in corporate sustainability, including Marc Pritchard, CBO at Procter and Gamble; John Izzo, bestselling author and thought leader from Izzo Associates, and Jill Cress, CMO of National Geographic Partners.

Vancouver-based speakers included Sadhu Johnson, city manager of the City of Vancouver; Esther Speck, vice president of global sustainability at Lululemon; Gwendal Castellan, sustainable destination specialist for Tourism Vancouver; Dr. Peter S. Ross, vice president of research for Ocean Wise, and James Tansy, executive director for the Centre for Social Innovation & Impact Investing at the University of British Columbia. 

“Vancouver’s entire tourism and events community (was) very proud to host Sustainable Brands’ global flagship conference,” said Ken Cretney, board chair of Tourism Vancouver and president and CEO of BC Pavilion Corporation.

He continued, “With the Vancouver Convention Centre’s demonstrated leadership in environmental sustainability underscored by its two LEED Platinum certifications, the facility (was) a fitting home for the event. Furthermore, we…partnered with Sustainable Brands to offer a special Sustainable Event Professional Certificate Course with the goal of improving sustainability in the global meetings and events industry.”

According to Craig Lehto, general manager of the VCC, major part of the venue’s sustainability efforts during SB’18 involved working closely with event organizers prior to the event to discuss their ambitious sustainability requirements. 

“As a facility where we already have comprehensive sustainable practices incorporated into our operations, it became a matter of confirming our practices,” Lehto explained. 

He continued, “For example, we ensure that condiments were served in bulk and replenished only when necessary; no water bottles were served and instead, water fountains were retrofitted with bottle fillers; all leftover exhibitor items were donated, and all waste was sorted and diverted. We believe our commitment to sustainability and our demonstrated leadership in this area,  underscored by our two LEED Platinum certifications, set our venue apart (and make) us a great fit for global conventions like Sustainable Brands and others dealing with environmental sustainability.”

Meanwhile, some leading companies used SB’18 as a launching pad for their own sustainability and CSR strategies, including The Hershey Company, which released its 2017 Shared Goodness Corporate Social Responsibility report and unveiled its new CSR strategy, “Shared Goodness Promise,” at the event. 

Inspired by Founder Milton Hershey, the new strategy aims to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives through investments, collaborative programs and sustainable business practices and provides a focused framework for the company’s CSR work in four areas: Shared Futures, Shared Communities, Shared Business and Shared Planet. 

Aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the initiative addresses some of the biggest challenges facing communities around the world by nourishing the lives of children and helping them succeed in school; investing in purpose-driven initiatives and business models; safeguarding the natural environment; helping Hershey communities thrive and engaging Hershey’s employees in these efforts, according to Jeff King, senior director of sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social innovation at Hershey.

“The Shared Goodness Promise aims to make a difference in the lives of thousands of people around the world, from the West African farmers growing the cocoa used in our products to the employees in our facilities in the United States,” King explained. “It helps us to focus our resources and the talents of our people – whether they’re nutrition, manufacturing or finance experts – in ways that are a making a powerful difference in the lives of individuals and entire communities.”

According to King, while sustainability has always been important to Hershey, its broader stakeholders, including activists, customers, consumers and shareholders, are becoming increasingly interested in the company’s behind-the-scenes efforts, so Sustainable Brands seemed like the perfect arena to share that information in front of a global audience.

“Sustainable Brands is an outstanding venue to gain insight and examples of how other like-minded companies are increasing their sustainability efforts,” King said. “We gain inspiration from others as well as hopefully make contacts for future partnership for our own efforts.

Sustainable Brands 2019 is set for June 3-6 at Cobo Center in Detroit. 


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