Big Brands Convene to Step Up Supply Chain & Product Innovation

by Michelle Mosser, Brand Nature


Michelle MosserSustainable Brands 2014, now in its eighth year, has become a magnet event for those big brands that have answered the “Inconvenient Truth” wakeup call.

Over 2000 international attendees sprinted through a packed four-day program at San Diego’s Paradise Point Resort in which presenters -– corporate branders, green consultants and related NGOs — touted their newest sustainability initiatives.

Whether spurred by a more socially responsible customer base that is hyper-informed by social media, or facing marketplace pressures, the forerunner global brands at this conference have answered the sustainability call. The SB14 organizers designed the forum to spotlight global industry innovations in response to daunting climate, supply chain and economic challenges since “green” went mainstream.

Event tracks aligned under the broad themes of REIMAGINE, REDESIGN and REGENERATE, which translated to eco-advances in product design, packaging and waste-stream practices, and corporate buying power that is shifting procurement methods away from manufacturing norms linked to deforestation, greenhouse gas and intensive water use. “Regenerate” translates into making quantum shifts that effectively re-invent products, brands, and the role business plays in these challenges –– a change that appeared well under way among the presenters.

The Big Pivot

Conference founder, KoAnn Skrzyniarz kicked off the week with a challenge for the change agents in the room. She asked members of industry to think––and do—more, to collaborate for mutual gain and broaden the definition of value their brands deliver.

Eco-strategist and Harvard Business Review author Andrew Winston set the stage by speaking from his latest book, The Big Pivot – Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer and More Open World. “If we don’t tackle the bio-physical underpinnings of our world, the other issues are moot,” Winston said. He made the case for a dramatic shift from “business as usual,” so companies can adapt to five rapidly changing global conditions:

1)  Demographic and social changes

2)  A shift in global economic power to the East

3)  Rapid urbanization

4)  Climate change and resource scarcity

5)  Technological breakthroughs

A Vision Pivot, a Valuation Pivot and a Partner Pivot require, respectively, a change in how we see, value and work in the world. Pursuing “heretical” innovation; setting science-based goals; fighting “the short-term obsession”; evolving the numbers we assign to value; and broadening industry’s ability to partner with government and competitors, are core tenets. “All this leads to the hot topic of resilience,” Winston summed up.

He noted that beverage giant Coca-Cola recently partnered with fierce rival competitor Pepsi, along with Unilever, to remove the harmful chemicals in refrigerants after realizing its biggest carbon footprint was HFC refrigerants used to cool drinks.

Plenaries spanned young eco-innovators to 25-plus year veterans of the triple bottom line.

Particularly exciting were new product innovations under the REDESIGN track, where challenges of climate change and natural resource depletion have sparked the entrepreneurial capacity to see problem solving as a competitive advantage.

Aly Khalifa, founder of Lyf Shoes, as well as Director of Design and Engineering at McDonnough Innovation, shared their radically cool, new concept for designing shoes. Their Cradle to Cradle® process marries innovations in 3D and on-demand printing with traditional hand craftsmanship. They have innovated a system for producing one-off, custom fit and designed shoes with interlocking components that mimic ancient Shinto temple construction. Assembly uses no adhesives and fabrication sourcing employs 100 percent reclaimed raw materials, (like Whole Foods wine corks). After running a digital scan of a customer’s feet, their shoes can be assembled in 90 seconds at the retail store – effectively eliminating waste liabilities on the manufacturing side.

Jeremiah Owyang of Crowd Companies connected the economic dots of the social-share economy in his head-turning presentation: Redesigning Consumption: How Sharing is Becoming the New Buying, based on a first-time study. The study tracks responses from more than 90,000 Internet users across the US, UK and Canada, and the report concludes that sharing online is mainstream, growing, practical and satisfying, and has become a competitive threat to large corporations. Major brands who have recognized this trend have already developed, or are in the process of building, online marketplaces and divisions where products, services and knowledge are shared and rented, not purchased.

Dayna Baumeister, pioneering co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8, updated the audience on a diverse range of companies that have worked with their team to learn how nature solves many problems that industry grapples with. Product innovators are achieving better performance through “the conscious emulation of Nature’s genius.”

In one application of biomimicry, a German window glass company looked to spider webs to understand why birds don’t fly into them. The company now utilizes ultra-violet fibers, like those found in webs, in glass fenestration for panels used in their client’s high-rise buildings, which has completely eliminated bird crashes.

In another case of biomimicry, a solar-thermal energy company has produced 25 percent more power with their installations by arranging panels to mimic the configuration of seeds in a sunflower blossom.

Yet another companuy, ReGen, has applied a mathematical-model that mimics the coordination patterns that occur when fish school and birds flock, to better design energy-optimization systems for buildings, now saving up to 23 percent at peak load times.

Columbia Forest Products completely eliminated formaldehyde from their building products by emulating the adhesive that blue mussels create in their underwater ecosystems.

Brands use SB14 for new rollouts

Panera Bread’s Chief Concept Officer, Scott Davis announced his company’s new (Clean) Food Policy, raising Panera’s leadership bar among fast food chains. Already known for innovating ways to partner with farmers to affordably source healthier ingredients like free-range chicken and organic milk for their kids menu, this new commitment could be precedent-setting across the industry. By 2016 the company will remove all artificial additives in their food including MSG and artificial trans fats. Additionally their policy will provide “a transparent menu” for customers, so they can choose between the caloric counts of dishes, see full ingredient lists and learn more about where their food comes from.

Target announced its new “Made to Matter” naturals department – a first-of-its-kind mass market approach to merchandising products across many channels in one area of their stores. At the time of launch the collection will span 16 leading natural, organic and sustainable brands across six categories–Baby, Beauty and Personal Care, Grocery, Healthcare, and Household products. Brands include Annie’s Homegrown, Burt’s Bees, Clif Bar, Ella’s Kitchen, EVOL, Horizon Organic, Hyland’s, Kashi, Method, Plum Organics, Seventh Generation, Shea Moisture, Target’s Simply Balanced, Vita Coco, Yes To, and Zarbee’s Naturals.

Coca-Cola debuted EKOCENTERTM, their new social enterprise initiative which provides solar-powered popup community hubs to rural off-grid global villages who are most in need of life’s basic services. Derk Hendriksen, General Manager of EKOCENTER, describes this concept as “downtown in a box,” a modular building that in its first phase will provide essentials like safe drinking water filtration and healthcare products, and connectivity services like wi-fi, phone chargers, photocopying, and education programs. Their business model partners with NGOs operating on the ground in these villages, versed in providing expertise in training women to become business owners and grow access to micro-finance. By the end of 2014, Coca-Cola plans to have 30 test Ekocenters installed, beginning in South Africa.

Radical partnering to achieve more sustainable supply and social benefits

Bill Shireman, CEO of Future 500, led exemplary discussions to spotlight collaborations thought unimaginable even a few years ago – such as the partnership that brings paper giant Avery Dennison in line with what Shireman called a “zero deforestation supply chain policy.”

Dean Scarborough, Avery Dennison (AD) CEO, described how the $6 billion dollar global paper products company that buys thousands of tons of paper, chemicals and film materials a year for its labeling and packaging product lines has had the opportunity to tackle a greener supply chain at price parity. In 2011 AD issued their first sustainability report grading themselves on their two-year strategy to reduce landfill waste by 85 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, while increasing sustainable products in their line. Today, Scarborough has almost reached zero percent landfill waste and has launched Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper products. Wholesale buyers, however, were eschewing the greener materials because they cost more.

AD had begun working with the Rainforest Alliance (RA) on a responsible sourcing policy initiative when Tensie Whelan, RA president, invited Dean to visit Indigenous sustainably managed forests in Guatemala and eucalyptus plantations in Brazil that feed FSC pulp mills and enable zero sourcing from virgin forests. A light bulb went off for Dean when he realized AD could leverage their buying power with others in their industry to achieve price parity for all. They’ve now implemented a Responsible Paper Sourcing policy where 40 percent of their European products use FSC certified paper and they’re using 25 percent worldwide this year. Avery Dennison has raised the bar further; setting a 95 percent target for FSC certified papers in the next two years.

Scarborough continued, “But then we realized that sustainability is a wonderful lens for innovation. We can solve problems for other companies and their supply chains.” This experience with creative problem solving inspired development of a new adhesive product called CleanFlakeTM, which allows labeling to be easily cleaned/separated from the PET bottling process – an industry first.

Sustainable Brands ( ) is expanding an ambitious outreach plan, delivering on their mission to shift global businesses toward a sustainable economy by helping brands to embed purpose-driven environmental and social innovation into their core DNA. Over the last two years they’ve convened conferences in Istanbul, Rio and London and will be hosting SB events in Buenos Aires, London and Malaysia this Fall. Their second annual US New Metrics Conference is slated for Boston on September 24–26, 2014.

Article by Michelle Mosser, founder, Grace Communications. Find out more about Michelle, who is GreenMoney’s eJournal designer and social media consultant, at

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