A who’s who of field experts, creatives and C-suite leaders gathered at Sustainable Brands’ latest virtual event to share the latest insights, research and progress toward advancing and scaling sustainable consumer behavior and lifestyle changes — and what effective leadership looks like in 2020 and beyond.
The event kicked off with Brands for Good (BfG) VP Etienne White and Wendy Salomon, Managing Director of Reputation &
Corporate Strategy at The Harris Poll, discussing the results of the
Sociocultural Trend Tracker
commissioned by the BfG team; with Ed Huber and Virginie Helias, from BfG brand partners
The Clorox Company and Procter &
Gamble (P&G), respectively. Along
with insights into consumer progress in adopting more sustainable behaviors, the
research examined brand trust scores in this unprecedented time of
COVID-19 and other
The craft of creativity — straight from the horses’ mouths
Then, in a frank discussion on thoughtful brand messaging, three lessons emerged
from the triumvirate behind P&G’s powerful series of adverts on bias and racism:
“Circumstances” and “The
1. Assess your brand’s position
When Keith Cartwright, President & CCO of creative agency
Cartwright, is approached by brands wanting to
campaign on social issues, he asks them to do some deep
“The first question is, ‘Have you done a diagnostic of your company on where you
are on these issues?’ Once you get that diagnostic, the next step is to see who
you are as a brand, and what statement you should be making,” he says. “Work out
where you want to go. Then, we can create a plan to get you there.”
2. Create a safe space
“Creativity needs to find a warm, safe place to come out,” says Cartwright,
stressing the importance of creating a comfortable working environment for young
people, and for people of
Justine Armour, Chief Creative Officer at Grey New
York, noticed the benefits of her team
working from home during from the COVID-19 pandemic — as team members of all
levels have worked more closely with senior leadership. “It has meant a more
radical, fluid collaboration. You need a certain level of trust in each other’s
inputs,” she says.
3. Earn the permission
Earned permission is an important concept. A brand needs a history of
authentically working on sensitive social issues before it can make a
directional ad asking people to change their behavior.
“You’ve got to put the work in and it’s got to be congruent with what you do.
We’ve been at this for decades,” explains Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Brand
Cartwright agrees: “Marc has been having this conversation for a period of time,
so has permission to make these ads. Having made ‘The Look’ and ‘The
Talk’ gives permission to make
COVID-19 has changed the role of the CMO
“This year, a spotlight has been put back on what marketing is all about. It’s
not about products — it’s about why we sell them,” said Yumi Clevenger Lee,
Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer at Nestlé Waters.
She and her fellow panelists reflected on the impact of COVID-19 on their
profession. The pandemic, Clevenger Lee said, forced marketers everywhere to rip
up whatever they had been working on and ask themselves a simple question: What
do people want right now?
“It wasn’t that they needed another advert,” she adds. They needed information
about hygiene; they needed help because kids weren’t able to access school meals
anymore. “Our teams could have frozen. But instead, they wanted to help by using
our leverage and the money of brands to do good in the world. Some of our
marketers did work they are most proud of in their whole careers.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Brad Hiranaga, Chief Brand Manager at General
Mills. He admitted that lockdown made him more empathetic to people’s lives:
“It enabled us to have a clearer definition as to what needs solving for
Since February, Hiranaga said the food giant has been producing marketing that
is useful, rather than interruptive. New messaging and communications have
helped to solve small problems (tips and advice on cooking from home) as well as
big challenges (the hunger gap is on the rise as many more people face
unemployment). “Being in the center of that is exciting,” he said.
Of course CMOs have had to pivot: “Everything we had been doing was irrelevant
Hiranaga admitted. But, clearly, finding new ways to modify messaging and
engagement strategies has been rewarding.
For Jennifer Betka, CMO at Indigo
COVID-19 has also helped to “lower the bar on perfection,” with people sharing
their homes and intimate environments on video calls. “We’re putting humanity
before perfection; that has accelerated the connection between stakeholders.”
Harnessing behavioral science to accelerate culture change
One of several afternoon breakout sessions began by looking at the increasing
desire among mainstream audiences to shift to more sustainable behaviors.
When sustainability strategy and change agency
Futerra asked people in the US and UK
whether they should make as many big lifestyle changes to address climate change
as they are to stop coronavirus, they responded with an overwhelming ‘yes,’
shared CEO Lucy Shea.
The desire to make a change is there; but WeSpire founder and CEO Susan
Hunt Stevens believes previous attempts to communicate with consumers based on
their demographic have only been reaching about a third of people. And as more and more major companies have sought out new ways to engage their employees and customers in a shift toward more sustainable lifestyles (minus the guilt, preaching or doomsday themes of the past), the WeSpire and Futerra teams concluded that it’s time for
psychographically customized approaches — as demonstrated in Brands for Good’s forthcoming Lifestyle
The idea of the Roadmap is to offer behavior change pathways based on
archetypes. Brands can invite employees and other stakeholders to take a self-assessment questionnaire
to find out which archetype they are: Realist, Fixer, Winner, Energizer, Creator
or Pioneer. Respondents then join a community, taking part in challenges towards
more sustainable behavior. The challenges, although the same, are presented in
different ways to appeal to each archetype.
Brands for Good partner brands have begun testing the Lifestyle
Transformation Roadmap internally; a public-facing version, still in development, is set to launch in 2021.
J&J’s sustainability team is excited — for good reason
Consumer goods and pharmaceutical giant Johnson &
Johnson (J&J) has
just announced it will spend $800
over the next decade to make its products more sustainable, improving the health
of people and planet. One order of business: making all of the company’s
consumer health brands fully transparent, in terms of ingredients.
The commitment also covers packaging. By 2025, all of J&J’s brands will use 100
percent recyclable, reusable or compostable plastic packaging and
certified/post-consumer recycled paper- and pulp-based packaging. By 2030,
brands including Aveeno, Johnson’s, Listerine, Neutrogena and
OGX will use 100 percent recycled plastic in their bottles.
There is also a focus on tackling some of the big preventable, yet complex,
health challenges — such as smoking and skin cancer. J&J promises to collaborate
on initiatives, both inside and outside the company.
The company’s Global President of Essential Health, Katie Decker, excitedly
introduced the “Healthy Lives Mission:” “It’s not a program, or a thing on the
side; it’s really core to how we operate our business,” she said. “And it’s a
movement and a catalyst for how we’re going to evolve and change over time.”
Rafal Hrymoc, J&J’s Head of Skin Health Packaging and Innovation, was on
hand to give more detail as to the company’s approach to meeting the ambitious
“We work to improve human health by creating and delivering products in a way
that considers the health of the planet — without sacrificing the efficacy of
our products, and certainly not the safety of our products.” The company says it
will continue to create products that make a “meaningful difference to human
health,” by using data about consumer needs and preferences. “We combine those
insights with our superior science …[to] design products and use processes with
the earth in mind.”
But, as the J&J team acknowledged — meeting the 2030 goals will not be easy,
especially when it comes to packaging. Strategic partnerships will be crucial.
Moving to 100 percent post-consumer resin in its bottles is a big ask, given
where we are with mechanical recycling. Just 14-16 percent of plastic is
captured in recycling streams today, Hrymoc said. Significantly increasing that
percentage will involve everything from education, to evolving MRFs (materials
recovery facilities); and from many other things that are beyond just the
“That’s where we as an industry need to get involved and help push that,” Hrymoc
said. “Because we’re not going to do this as individual groups; we’re going to
do this together.”
Continuing to drive culture change — even in times of crisis
How are brands changing the way they communicate with consumers during this time
of multiple crises — COVID-19, racial
and climate change? Jonah Sachs, author and Executive Director of One
Project, said he noticed a change in how brands
responded to the Black Lives Matter
“For the first time, brands weren’t trying to get their own spin on it,” he
says. “They recognized the campaign and stepped up and supported it. They
recognized it as an issue that was bigger than them.”
This response is relevant for how brands can galvanize action around climate
change. “Brands are successful when they unlock humanity’s greater potential and
ask ‘How do you help people reach their higher goals and
rather than just treating them as consumers of a brand,” Sachs asserted.
Renee Lertzman — Climate, Energy, and Environmental Psychologist, and
founder of Project InsideOut — agreed that
organizations need to show up differently in the current context. She introduced
five guiding principles, a set of ideas grounded in evidence-based research and
identified to be the most powerful levers for driving sustainable behavior
change. Lertzman says these guiding principles can help brands design strategies
for reaching people who are activated,
Attune — Build trust through attunement.
Reveal — Be compassionate truth tellers.
Equip — Provide people with tools and resources.
Convene — Catalyze the power of smaller group interactions.
Sustain — Build continuity and relationships beyond a campaign.
Echoing Keith Cartwright earlier in the day, Lertzman said she believes the
more we invest in creating safe spaces, the more we can create change at an
incredible scale: “What creates the safe space is when we are ourselves —
vulnerable, transparent and owning our humanity. Lean into trust. Lean into
vulnerability,” she advised.
‘Leading with love’: What it takes to be a purpose-led CEO during a pandemic
Most CEOs might not share Jeff Fielkow’s positivity and enthusiasm in the
wake of a pandemic that has decimated many industries in the last six months.
But the President and CEO of Tetra
Pak says the current crisis has
helped to solidify the need for sustainability as a key driver for business. And
that’s a good thing, he said: “COVID has pressure-tested every business to see
how relevant they are in sustaining the core elements of what we need in life.”
For Tetra Pak, sustainability is all about making food safe and available with
its innovative packaging. But it’s also about looking after people, Fielkow
“The pandemic has put an accent point on food safety and the availability of
food. But it’s also created the biggest epiphany for me: The company can do more
than we think we can. If you rally behind a cause, it’s unstoppable. That’s
about empowering people.”
Jan Tharp, CEO at Bumble Bee Seafood, said she sees things similarly.
Reinforcing Sustainable Brands research unveiled at its Leadership
June — that 47 percent of businesses expect to accelerate their sustainability
commitments due to COVID-19 — she said that rather than halting initiatives, the
company would simply find new ways of delivering on its sustainability
From using FaceTime to interview crews on boats in Fiji as part of its
social audit work to adopting Blockchain
to enhance supply chain traceability, the business will continue to find new
technology “to get the job done.”
So, what does it mean to be a CEO of a purpose-led brand in 2020, of all years?
Well, as Fielkow says, there’s no playbook for 2020: “We’ve had to learn on the
fly.” But the importance of communications cannot be overstated. “Even if you
have nothing to say, you must communicate, communicate and communicate. This
enables people to feel like they’re on the journey with you,” he says.
In the heart of a pandemic, it is a company’s core values and purpose that
people gravitate towards and rally around. “For me, that was about protecting
our people,” Fielkow shared. “Safety is non-negotiable, both physically and
For Tharp, the secret to leadership is listening.
“I always thought you had to be a certain personality to be a CEO, but I’m an
introvert. Yet, it’s still possible [to be a great leader] if you can listen
with an open heart.
“I call it ‘leading with love.’ It’s about being compassionate, listening to
your team, feeding that back, and taking action accordingly. It’s not a secret —
it’s a muscle and a skill.”