5 Key Trends from Sustainable Brands ‘18 Vancouver

It’s one of the big milestones of the sustainability event circuit every year. Quantis joined the crowd of nearly 3,000 attendees at this year’s  Sustainable Brands ‘18 from June 4 to 7.The annual gathering, which made a pit-stop in Vancouver this year before heading back to Detroit, provided an opportunity to hear from forward-thinking brands, take stock of the top-of-mind issues for the business community, as well as connect with brands looking to progress on their journey.

It was clear from the mood and the business cases showcased that momentum around sustainability is building at record speed. SB does a good job at putting innovative solutions and corporate champions on stage, such as REI, who spoke about 8 macro trends that will impact the future of society. Another proof point that the field is expanding was the number of sustainability newbies that came out in hoards for the event. From the conversations had and sessions attended over the course of the four-day event, here are the five key trends that Quantis is seeing emerge even more:

Sustainable Brands ’18 Vancouver
sustainable brand

+ 1 Can-Do Attitude

It’s an exciting time for sustainability. While the complexity and urgency of environmental challenges haven’t changed, the way the business community thinks about and approaches them has. Business’ outlook on its ability to solve critical issues ranging from climate change to plastic pollution and deforestation has shifted from one of impending doom to one of optimism. This is particularly evident in the rise of pre-competitive consortiums and movements such as #WeAreStillIn — companies are finally beginning to see themselves as real change agents and are surpassing governments in putting progress into motion.

An ever-increasing number of success stories and brands openly communicating about their sustainability journeys are behind this positive attitude adjustment and are helping driving the shift from intention to action. The emergence of new frameworks, tools and initiatives are also empowering more brands than ever to turn their commitments into concrete efforts. And what they’re coming up with is inspiring. There’s still a long road ahead, but the general consensus is that things can only go up from here.

+ 2 Purpose, Purpose…and more Purpose

Purpose-driven business — does it ring a bell? It should: Purpose — linking a brand’s mission with a social benefit — is definitely THE buzzword of the moment. Is it shaping up to be the next frontier for corporate impact management? Or is it an attempt to rebrand sustainability for consumer marketing? The jury is still out…Whether purpose is a passing phase or here to stay, brands should tread with caution: There is a risk for “purpose” backlash.

Given the amount of press being given to purpose — and the number of SB’18 sessions incorporating the term into their titles — it is not unlikely that organizations could feel pressure to jump on the purpose bandwagon long before they are ready to do so. And that means adopting a purpose that lacks both business logic and authenticity. Consumers, investors and various other stakeholders, however, can see straight through “purpose” when it is used solely for business or marketing purposes. The growing prevalence of this purpose pitfall has already given rise to the term “purpose-washing.”

What brands really need is authenticity derived from firmly linking social or environmental purpose to business objectives. Patagonia is a great example of this. The outdoor clothing company’s purpose-beyond-profit — environmental stewardship — has long shaped the way it does business, influencing decision-making at all levels of the supply chain. In addition to walking the talk, strategic communications, which include the brand’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” and “The President Stole Your Land” campaigns, have been critical in helping Patagonia avoid purpose-washing claims and emerge as a sustainability champion.

Communicating on purpose, when it is authentic and transparent, is good for business. But for brands just entering the purpose arena, one of the key challenges is how to credibly and effectively communicate on their sustainability commitments and efforts. Strong strategic communication plans are needed to ensure that purpose is perceived as sincere rather than an opportunity to capitalize on momentum generated by a buzzword. Connect with Quantis Lead Sustainability Communications Consultant Amanda Martin to find out how to build a communication strategy around your purpose.

+ 3 Climate-Smart Cultivation

Regenerative agriculture — an approach to agriculture that focuses on improving and revitalizing soil health — is becoming a big focus for many companies in the food, cosmetics and apparel industries as a way to reduce environmental impacts and maintain productivity.  Annie’s Homegrown, The North Face, Eileen Fisher, Lush and Natura have emerged as leaders in this area and are helping pave the path forward for a sustainable future for food, fashion and cosmetics. Yet many companies have just begun to dip their toes into the topic and are still unclear on what the term means.

Quantis is currently exploring this topic under the umbrella of the Land Use Change Guidance. Contact Sustainability Consultant Mariko Thorbecke to learn about how Quantis can help you start on the path towards sustainable agriculture and land use and tap into the benefits of soil health.

+ 4 Science-Driven Goal Setting and Beyond

Science is finally getting sexy: science-driven sustainability goals are emerging as the gold standard for driving meaningful, long-term change and 100 global corporations, including our partners L’Oréal, Danone and Farmer Bros. Co., now have emissions reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). This marks an important step change in the way sustainability goals are set, with companies looking beyond what is merely achievable to what needs to be done. This year’s conference dedicated a considerable number of sessions to the sharing of knowledge and best practice around science-based goal setting.

To learn more about the benefits of setting ambitious sustainability targets supercharged with science and what tools, frameworks and metrics can help your company achieve its sustainability goals, check out our webinar with General Mills, Kering and McDonald’s, or drop Global Director of Services + Innovation Jon Dettling a line.

+ 5 Amped-Up Action on Ocean Plastics

The problem of ocean plastics has long been on the radar of companies across sectors, but the emergence of new research and reports within the last year revealing the extent of the issue has elevated plastics to the top the business community’s priority list. The cost and carbon footprint of plastics compared to other alternatives make them the material of choice for many companies, but improper post-consumer disposal is a major brand risk. There is a lot of engagement around the issue, but drawing on the predominant discourse in Vancouver, there is still lot of strategic work that needs to be done in order for brands to close the plastic loop.

The plastic pollution experts at Quantis and consultancy Shaping Environmental Actions are teaming up with key industry stakeholders to develop a plastic footprinting methodology to help organizations identify plastic hotspots along the value chain, assess and evaluate trade-offs between plastic pollution and other environmental impacts, and better guide decision-making.

Businesses interested in exploring collective solutions to plastic pollution should contact Senior Sustainability Consultant Carole Dubois.