The first online Sustainable Brands Boot Camp produced by the folks at Sustainable Life Media who convene the annual Sustainable Brands Conference kicked off yesterday.
CEO KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz recently spoke to one of the SB community members, Diane MacEachern, Founder and CEO of Big Green Purse about what drove the launch. We’ve published the whole interview below. The Boot Camp, which continues weekly for 13 weeks, pulls together many of the top sustainable business consultants and teachers in the US to provide an inexpensive, convenient 360 overview of the principles and current best practices of building a sustainable brand. 3P readers looking to boost their career would do well to consider participating.
KoAnn: Great to speak with you today, Diane! It’s always great to catch up with compatriots such as yourself who are part of the growing network of collaborators working to help drive a more sustainable future for our kids!
Diane: What inspired you to start a Sustainable Brands boot camp? Your conferences already offer so many useful tips and strategies – what can the boot camp offer that your conferences can’t?
KoAnn: You know, since we launched SLM in 2004 to begin to get the word out about the impending opportunities for businesses to build value and brand equity by innovating for sustainability, so much has changed.
In the beginning, the battle was simply to help get the word out about the inevitable need for companies to get serious about their environmental and social impact in order to stay competitive. In 2007 when we launched our first Sustainable Brands Conference, we brought together a few early innovators like Aveda, GE, Herman-Miller, Wal-mart, Gap and others to talk about what they were learning, and what was driving their pursuit of new, more sustainable value propositions for their customers. There were 270 people at that first conference. Since then, our community has exploded as more and more business people begin to understand that the future for business must be an environmentally and socially aware one, and that those who develop an expertise in this arena, and learn to innovate faster, will be the leading brands of the future.
As a result, there has begun to be an expertise gap. Many in our community of leaders have been at this for a decade or even more in some cases, but for every one of them, there are 100, or even 1000 behind who are just getting started.
We launched the Sustainable Brands Boot Camp to serve as an orientation for those people to the principles, current best practices and even terminology of sustainable brand building, so that we can move the whole community along faster, and we can keep the tenor of our annual live events focused on the front edge of innovation without loosing a connection to new people who are coming to the table.
Diane: Who are your boot camps for? What will be the most important “take-aways”?
KoAnn: Well, we believe that thinking about, and managing the environmental and social impact of business will be a new baseline way of doing business for everyone in the coming decades. Eventually, everyone coming out of school will have a grounding in the principles of sustainability. But for now, we have an enormous amount of retraining to do. As you well know, sustainability represents a fundamental paradigm shift — a new way to think about every part of how a business operates — from product design and manufacturing, all the way to things like telecommuting and other forms of more energy efficient and human centered resource management.
So in short, our belief is that anyone who works can benefit by gaining an understanding of the principles of sustainable business and brands. Therefore, we think the Boot Camp is relevant for anyone in business who isn’t already well on their way in thinking of how their job is impacted by this coming shift in business as usual. We believe completing the Boot Camp will a great resume builder for anyone, and a great value-add for any company who supports their employees’ orientation to this important topic.
Diane: Is branding for sustainable businesses different than branding for everyone else? Or Perhaps I should ask, what makes branding for sustainable businesses particularly challenging?
KoAnn: Both are great questions. Yes, I think branding for sustainable businesses IS different than branding for everyone else. In short, companies who decide to step up and identify themselves as more environmentally or socially respectful are committing to operate to a higher standard. For better or worse, it’s true that those companies who make claims about being green or socially beneficial come under greater scrutiny than others often. That’s what makes sustainable brand building particularly challenging. And so what’s different is again, first mind-set, and then execution: brand becomes not just a slogan or tag line or individual feature promise.
We like to say that sustainable brand builders need to see brand as first who you are, what you do and how you do it — THEN how you talk about it. Once a company starts down the path of sustainability, there is no real going back. Its like a light going on — if you being to ask yourself about your impact, it becomes very difficult to ‘put the cat back in the bag. But companies that have truly committed to starting down the path of self-reflection and learning that sustainability requires report it being mind-shifting and sometimes hard, but always deeply satisfying.
Diane: Will your boot camp address the issue of standards, especially in light of Wal-Mart’s efforts to create an industry-wide sustainability index?
KoAnn: Yes, we will be touching on this during one of our 13 sessions. It is an enormous topic, and one that more experienced sustainable brand builders are really grappling with on many levels at the moment. We’ve actually launched a second new ‘brand’ this fall along side the Boot Camp called “Sustainable Brands in Focus” which will address a series of more timely and topically focused subjects that our more advanced sustainable innovators are struggling with at the moment. Our first one coming up on December 3rd called “SBinFocus: Building Credibility/Avoiding Greenwash will be full day virtual event focused entirely on this topic. You should join us!
We plan to be convening a wide range of conversations going forward about topics of interest to people wherever they are on the path to sustainability. After all, we are inventing a new way of working and making everything –- there are lots of thorny issues to solve! Those of us who are innovation junkies are excited to think that there will be avenues for innovation around sustainability for a good long time to come.
Diane: If a company had to focus on only three tactics to brand itself as sustainable, what do you think they should be?
KoAnn: Well, I’m not sure if this is what you’re asking — appropriate tactics tend to vary by industry and company. But three pieces of advice come to mind that are common to anyone trying to brand themselves for sustainability. 1) be transparent 2) be authentic and 3) don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There are no perfect sustainable businesses that we can point to although there are some tremendous leaders out there we should all be learning as much as we can from. Even for them, though, sustainability is a path one steps on to, and customers will reward those who are honest, transparent, and committed to doing things a better way with business, loyalty, and word of mouth support. Sooner or later, sustainability will be the new ‘business as usual’ however for the moment, there remains enormous opportunity for those companies who choose sustainability as a platform for innovation. We are excited and grateful to be supporting the community of sustainable brand innovators and we welcome all who’d like to come join us. We’re thrilled you’re a part of our community too, Diane!