Trying to select the best moments of last month’s 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands – What’s Next was a tough task. The 90-plus speakers who went onstage across two jam-packed days all offered compelling points of view on the how, why and what’s tough about making of the most important decisions companies have to make today.
It’s hard to say who were the stars of the show, but now that three weeks have passed by, I would like to share some moments that have stayed with me.
What is clear is that more consumers now, more than ever before, want brands to take stands – especially younger consumers. "They’re few and far between right now, but brands that do this are building a loyalty based on shared values,” said Meredith Ferguson, managing director of DoSomething Strategic. “Not on price point, not on new product releases, just on shared values. And what an opportunity that presents to build a community of like-minded individuals who will be loyal for the long term."
Ferguson later added, “It’s not about just selling your products anymore; it’s about using your power, your platform, your influence to solve the world’s biggest problems.”
And harnessing that power to lift those shared values can help change society, added the author Mona Amodeo, a purpose pioneer who distilled what’s next for corporate and employee activism. "Can brands change the world?” she rhetorically asked the audience of 300-plus people during the gathering in National Harbor, Maryland. “You bet they can, because they can rally people around purpose and around things that matter."
The risk, in taking a stand, however, is that such a call can come across as inauthentic – either in how it’s communicated or implemented. While there was plenty of chatter on how that loaded term, “authenticity,” is often overused (just as “collaborative,” “it’s in our DNA” and “game changer”) the bottom line is that corporate decision makers need to be true to themselves . . . and the same goes for what is driving their companies’ mission.
Just as we’ve always been told growing up, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.
“Authentic content from companies are in its actions, not its pledges,” said Barie Carmichael, Senior Counselor at APCO Worldwide.
“Authenticity is key. Anybody can be just a cheerleader,” added Mercedes Escala of IBM.
One theme that permeated across this two-day event is how companies have little choice but to rethink how they approach the workforce. True, much of this shift is due to the low unemployment rate, but the reality is that employees are expecting more from the companies for which they work – and are being vocal about their expectations as well. And while just about every company says they are determined to have a more diverse workforce, many of us still witness a scenario where words aren’t met by action when it comes to this challenge.
Take, for example, the commonly heard refrain that it’s “hard” to find diverse talent. "We don't buy that—if you want to find the talent, you'll find it," said Dr. Harry L. Williams of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
Furthermore, it’s important to look for new employees in pools of talent that have been long overlooked. Greyston Bakeries, which has had a long relationship with Ben & Jerry’s, described its second chance hiring policy, one that is seamless for applicants: one puts his or her name on a list and then waits for that phone call when an opening occurs. As Joseph Kenner, Greyston’s vice president of programs and partnerships summed up, “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.”
Susan Braig, who now runs All Broads Affordable Plumbing, a Connecticut plumbing company staffed entirely by women with criminal justice histories, added to the second chance hiring conversation by asking the audience to think about the worst thing they’d ever done. “Now imagine having to put that on your business card, a job application, or talk about it to an HR person when you're about to be hired,” she said. “That’s what people leaving prison face.”
In a nutshell, Jenny Kim of Koch Industries, with whom I talked onstage, offered this reminder: "It is important to evaluate all employees based on their potential and not on their past.”
Being the executive editor for this publication for over a year now, one thing I’m proud of is that 3p strives as much as possible to focus on the social side of sustainability. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the environment is important – in fact, the evidence clearly shows more than a sense of urgency: the five-alarm fire is happening now.
"The climate crisis doesn't have shareholder meetings. Biodiversity loss isn't waiting for the next earnings call. It's coming anyway,” said futurist and author Simon Mainwaring (pictured above), who set the Forum’s stage during the first day and was a force of nature (pardon the pun) during the entire event.
With all due respect to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many speakers, as well as much of the audience, clearly felt that waiting until 2030 just isn’t giving us enough time. Furthermore, this new generation isn’t interested in working for a company that dismisses the risks that climate change is imposing on people and the planet.
Alison DaSilva, Executive Vice President of Purpose and CSR at Porter Novelli/Cone, noted that Generation Z will hold their future employers’ feet to the fire. “Gen Zers are not willing to check their values at the workplace door, so companies need to clearly communicate how they are making an impact to appeal to this driven but discerning generation,” she said.
Hence the climate crisis is changing how we should approach everything, including how we approach disaster relief and recovery. Tiffany Everett, Senior Director of Disaster Recovery at Good360, just laid it out quickly and succinctly: “Stop throwing clothes in a bag and taking it to the local non-profit,” she quipped as she passionately made the case for an approach more focused on long-term resilience when it comes to making donations for disaster relief.
Image credit: 3BL Media
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.