Della and I are finally settled in after a few days in San Diego at Sustainable Brands 2016, and all I can say is, “WOW”.

I am still amazed by the event and all that we learned. But more than that, it was so refreshing to spend a few days with such passionate and energetic people, brands, and organizations. 

It was nearly impossible to narrow this list down, but here are our top takeaways from SB ‘16:

1. Language is a virus 

In my opinion, Betsy Henning, CEO and founder of AHA! (@AHAwriters) summed up the conference with her talk on day one. Everything in sustainability is about how we communicate our message and who is listening. 

“We are always trying to build bridges across rivers.”
-Betsy Henning

If you tell a story inside of a culture, people can start building their side of the bridge and walking from the get go versus waiting for you to build the whole way on your own. 

So, how do we tell you story so others can actually hear us? Betsy encouraged us to tailor our message - to tell the office manager how sustainability programs will help improve office efficiency, while discussing the benefits of legacy and reputation with the CEO. It sounds pretty elementary, but meaningful conversations start when you get on the same page as the person with whom you’re trying to communicate. 

“Let’s quit talking about sustainability like nerds and talk to people in a way others understand.” 
-Ian Rosenberger, Thread


Betsy also walked us through the seven deadly sins of sustainability communications. Ready? They are: 

  1. Way too dry

  2. All rainbows and butterflies 

  3. Shouldn't need a dictionary

  4. Doesn't mean what you think

  5. A million interpretations

  6. Sounds so generic

  7. A different story every time

She ended her talk by saying that, in order to get everyone on the same page with sustainability, we need to be speaking a language everyone understands.


2. Sustainable Brands’ 10 Year Anniversary! 

KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz (@koann), Founder and CEO of Sustainable Brands, and the whole SB community celebrated 10 Successful Years with a killer panel that included: 

  • Benjamin Jarrett, North America Sustainability Leader at Kimberly Clark (@KCCorp)
  • David Rapaport, VP Earth and Community Care at Aveda (@Aveda)
  • Kevin Butt, Chief Environmental Officer at Toyota (@Toyota)
  • Laura Phillips, SVP Corporate Responsibility at Walmart (@WalmartToday)
  • Owen Rogers, Partner at IDEO (@ideo)
  • Paul Murray, VP of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs at Shaw Industries (@ShawFloors)

KoAnn shared that at Sustainable Brands, purpose and profitability are interconnected. And, better yet, her hope was to help us move away from our competitive natures and instead, work together to support and lift each other up. Seriously, how can you not love this woman? 

“What if we could make customers heroes and not just places to pull money from?”
-KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz


3. Daily yoga practice

This one is pretty self explanatory, but I couldn’t think of a better way to start out a busy conference day than with a little yoga. Lululemon provided a full-service experience with towels, mats, and water, which took the pressure off for those of us traveling in from out of town or out of state. 

And, as a first time SUP yogi, Della was a little nervous, but she rocked it and was so thankful for the experience. Brittany Slater of PureSUPYoga out of Huntington Beach, CA made the class enjoyable and challenging.  

Thank you, @lululemon and @pureSUPyoga for helping all of us stay healthy, focused, and loose during long hours of sitting and networking! 

4. SB Innovation Open hosted by Target

The SB Innovation Open was such an inspiring and eye-opening experience! A huge congratulations to all four of the finalists - it was a tough choice for the winner. 

I have to say that as a woman, it was hard not to vote for Conscious Period, especially after learning the number of women who cannot afford these government deemed “luxury items” (think 24+ million women) and that the FDA does not even require manufacturers to label the ingredients (aka chemicals) put in our feminine products! 

Della and I also had great conversations with Grubbly Farms (I want some of the grubs for my compost!), The Renewal Workshop, and ReGrained. I am constantly amazed by the innovations of our generation and can’t wait to watch businesses like these grow. 

5. Annie Longsworth doing shots of tequila on stage

Annie Longsworth (@sirenannie) is the founder of The Siren Agency and the best friend we all wish we had. Her speech was great, but the most memorable moment was her doing shots of tequila on stage while she told the story of how she arrived at SB ‘16 by a sailboat named Aphrodite with a group from San Francisco.  

“As underachievers, we have nowhere to go but up!” 
-Annie Longsworth

6. Mud Jeans’ sustainability story

If I’m being honest, Mud Jeans (@mudjeansNL) was not on the top of my radar before SB ‘16. But the company is leading the charge with fashion in the circular economy and they are setting a great example of how to make reuse work, and work well. 

During the presentation, we learned that the fashion industry is the third most polluting industry in the world and the second largest consumer of water. Their CEO, Bert van Son, set out to change the way we think about buying clothes and embraced the idea of leasing everyday items, like jeans and t-shirts. 

“When you design something, think about the end.”
-Bert van Son

We also learned that the average person throws away 70 pounds of clothes per year and that “fast fashion” is the equivalent of fast food in the fashion industry.   

Mud Jeans uses certified organic cotton, which has a lower water footprint and uses no genetically-modified seeds. And, through technology and partnerships, they streamlined the creation and recycling process to be as low-waste as possible. Mud Jeans has big dreams and I can’t wait to see what they do next. 

7. Green Giants exist and six things make them successful

Freya Williams (@freya1), CEO of Futurra and author of “Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability into Billion-Dollar Businesses”, helped answer the big question of, “What is the business case for sustainability?”. 

We need to make green better, not just greener.”
-Freya Williams

She walked us through what makes these billion-dollar (yes, with a “B”) companies successful while also being sustainable. And, she laid out six common factors that make Green Giants so successful: 

  1. The iconistic leader

  2. Disruptive innovation

  3. A purpose beyond profit (aka purpose-driven companies)

  4. Built-in, not bolted on

  5. Mainstream appeal

  6. A new behavioral contract

So, who are these Green Giants anyway? Think Chipotle, Toyota Prius, and Whole Foods, just to name a few. In fact, the Prius just sold its 9-millionth vehicle and nearly 11.7% of stock from Green Giants outperformed comparison companies for 5 years straight. 

Keep an eye out for some of the newest Green Giants arriving on the map: REI, Organic Valley, Costco, and more. 

8. The upcycling panel: Timberland, Thread, LooptWorks, and Alaska Airlines

Of course, Relan is biased when it comes to upcycling, but this panel discussion was incredible. My favorite part was the Q&A, which left all of us with some big questions to chew on. Questions like, “Why don’t brands use more recycled materials or design for circular economies for their products?” Ian Rosenberger from Thread answered well by saying, “Where our clothes come from is as important as where we take them”. 

We talked about how brands need to tie stories to their products to increase meaning, and the task brands have to translate sustainability into trust and authenticity. And, we discussed the importance of looking at the entire loop and lifecycle of a product before starting something new.

By focusing on the entire lifecycle, we can create jobs, conserve resources, and align brands with their mission. And, we can learn from each other as we go. Needless to say, this panel was a winner and something I hope SB continues to offer at future events. 

Catch @timberland, @threadIntl, @looptworks, and @alaskaair on Twitter.

9. Calculating the ROI of purpose 

One of the biggest challenges of building a sustainability or purpose-driven program is calculating the ROI. This is what Brendan LeBlanc of EY (@b_leblanc_ey), Chris Coulter of GlobeScan (@cdjcoulter), and Mark Lee of SustainAbility (@markpeterlee) helped us all better understand during their session. 

“Purpose has replaced sustainability in what’s trending.”
-Brendan LeBlanc


The research they shared was eye-opening and is something you should definitely have in your back pocket if you’re getting ready to present your case for new programming: 

  • 65% of consumers globally try to support brands that are purposeful

  • 63% of retail shareholders globally believe purposeful companies are more profitable

  • 58% of companies that have intentionally activated purpose have achieved 10% or more growth

And, in case you’re curious, the top five purpose-driven companies in the U.S. are: Google, Walmart, Microsoft, Apple, and Toyota.

10. JetBlue’s Crying Babies and Reach Across the Aisle videos


JetBlue’s new advertising campaigns pull at the heartstrings and remind all of us that, at the end of the day, we’re all human. They are testing out new forms of engagement through “captive audiences”, tackling topics such as motherhood and politics in situations that many of us can relate to. 

11. Heineken’s 2015 Sustainability Report 

Heineken’s 2015 sustainability report speaks for itself. Have a look:


I love seeing companies do away with tradition and embrace out-of-the-box thinking. This video is engaging and bite-size, but still gets Heineken’s message out to the world. I also love that Heineken is promoting quality over quantity, which is, of course, a very sustainable mindset. Well done! 

12. Embedding Sustainability with Clif Bar, Harrah’s SoCal, Pixar, and Kohler

This panel was so much fun to listen to because of the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking of the speakers. They encouraged us to use marketing as an opportunity to tell stories to consumers, and that we shouldn’t be afraid to have fun. 

“If you want engagement: Inspire them, don’t require them.” 
-Daniel Alvarez, Pixar

Beau Swanson from Harrah’s SoCal (@harrahssocal) reminded us that if no one is using the programs we set up, we may need to go back to the drawing board. And, Keely Wachs from Clif Bar (@clifbar) encouraged us to make engagement part of our business models. 

Sustainability programs take a village and sometimes, it’s a matter of trial-and-error, of “failing forward” to get things just right. 

13. Making Sustainability Stick Internally with the Kevin’s

“Coordination is key to a circular economy, but it is not normal in business.” We learned this from Kevin Wilhelm of Sustainable Business Consulting (@kevinwilhelmsbc) and Kevin Hagen of Iron Mountain (@ironmountain). They lovingly reminded us that sustainability is not one big shift. Rather, it happens in phases.

But, there are three keys to success as a change agent when it comes to sustainability: 

  1. There is always another step

  2. What got you there wont get you to the next step

  3. Always keep learning. If you stop learning, the process stops as well

14. The Human Element of Sustainability

Every conversation at SB was around how we communicate, how we get people involved, and how we can make a bigger impact. The human element of sustainability is imperative, because we can’t change the world alone. As Kevin and Kevin said, “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

SB ‘16 gave us so much food for thought and the conversations had last week are ones that will stick with Della and me long after the event. Thank you so much to KoAnn and the entire SB team for another great year. We are already looking forward to next year!

Did you attend SB ‘16? Let’s keep the conversation going - tell us your biggest takeaway in the comments!