Sustainable Brands 2014 - Reimagine, Redesign, Regenerate

June 24, 2014

Every year, hundreds of sustainability professionals gather in sunny San Diego to listen, learn, and network at the annual Sustainable Brands conference. This year the event attracted more than 2,000 attendees plus many, many more that joined plenaries streamed on the Internet. This year’s theme was “Reimagine, Redesign, Regenerate.”
I put that theme of "re" in the front of my mind as I participated in the event for four days. Here is what stuck with me:
The first major theme of Sustainable Brands 2014 was the focus on ourselves and the human side of sustainability.  Jo Confino of The Guardian addressed the “enormous amount of hidden grief about what is happening in the world,” including the destructive reality of commerce even while we are trying to fix it. He acknowledged that “we like to come up with solutions and strategy, which is critically important, but it’s also all about feeling – feeling on a deep level"

It is a great point and one that hits like a dagger. Many of us do realize that our current models of unfettered growth are not sustainable. We either need to find solutions or, as economics bluntly describes to us, they will find us in the "tragedy of the commons." In other words, we are at a critical point in human history where we must decide to either a) take proactive action to avoid a major and devastating shift on our planet or b) take a reactive approach and simply deal with whatever arises.
We need to reimagine how we create wealth in a world that is becoming hotter, scarcer, and more crowded.
One way that we can take action is to redesign our metrics and our goals. I spoke twice at the conference on the importance of setting science-based sustainability goals.
From my work with Andrew Winston on, the world's first online database of the global Fortune 500's sustainability goals, we have found that of the world's largest 200 companies, only 62 of them have set science-based sustainability goals. That's only 31%.  And of the 2,098 sustainability goals of the global Fortune 200, only 130 of the 2,098 (6.2%) goals are science-equivalent.  Furthermore, only 13 of the 130 science-equivalent goals are explicitly linked to science.
In other words, in our world that is nearly completely reliant on science to run our complex energy, communications, food and myriad other systems, we nearly completely ignore science when it comes to ensuring our future and protecting our one shared supply chain. also known as Earth.
Our system is becoming more and more strained, and we need to redesign it to support our ever-growing needs.
Sustainability is increasingly becoming an unwelcome  word, and I don't disagree. It certainly does not bring with it much inspiration.  If you asked a student interviewing for a job on how they were doing in school and they said 'sustainably,' you'd probably scratch them from your list.
Sustainability needs to become our "floor" and not our "ceiling." Our ceiling should be much, much higher, if not infinite. What would inspire me? How about thrivability?. Flourishing?. Regenerative? Or... net positive and good.
A central theme of the conference was the increased focus on companies achieving a net positive impact or doing net good.  The Forum for the Future has recruited seven companies that have signed on to target becoming "net positive" in terms of impact on the earth and society. Currently there is no set list of requirements to qualify "net positive," but member companies will help set those. Current member companies include Ikea, Coca-Cola, Kingfisher, BT, and SKF.  As one participant stated: "Net zero is the beginning. The leaders are the companies with Net Positive goals."
Net zero,  no net impact, or "sustainability" is simply the beginning. Attaining net positive, net good, to regenerate is our shared future. It is the only future that is worth our time and energy.




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