G&A Institute’s Report on Sustainable Brands 2016 — Theme: Finding new ways to activate purpose

By Selene Lawrence, Sustainability Reports Analyst, Governance & Accountability Institute

This past week, the national and international community of sustainability practitioners and enthusiasts convened for the 10th annual Sustainable Brands (SB) conference in San Diego. What took place among palm trees and beaches was not like any conference we normally attend to network, learn, and occasionally workshop. SB is a living breathing hub for activation– the activation of purpose, as was this year’s theme, but also the activation of inspiration, potential, and of the power of community.

This year’s theme of “activating purpose” resonated in every panel, from purposeful branding and partnerships, to finding purpose in one’s industry and the players within. There was the evolving purpose of incentive and risk, and certification and international frameworks. We also learned about the purpose of SB in San Diego, where we explored the most fitting place for a meeting on sustainable innovation and practice.

A resounding theme was the transformation from viewing sustainability practice as a risk mitigation tactic, to instead as opportunity for growth. In posing the questions, “What if sustainability acted as brand value creation?” and “What if consumers could be heroes of the future and not just commodities to extract profit?” we found that purpose and profit are more often linked than separate.

Novozymes, a leader in the biotech industry, proved that aligning business with the UN Sustainable Development Goals is not only preventative, but opportune, as it pushes businesses to look towards sustainable alternatives in their innovation pipeline that will provide competitive edge in the globalized landscape of realized SDG goals in the coming decade. Related to this was the topic of investor expectations. Through examples, we learned that we are far from the days when investors did not find sustainability relevant or worthwhile as a business strategy.

Today, 75% of investors believe that sustainability is material to investment decisions, and 60% stated they would divest from poor sustainability performers. Yet only 24% of IR professional believe it is important to their investors. It is a disconnect and misconception that poses a new risk, and also a new opportunity for companies.

To the point of bringing awareness to the IR professional, unlocking the power of sustainability as a growth agent in your company means unlocking it from the CSR department. A common thread among panelists from 3M to Walmart was allowing sustainability to permeate all departments from Investor Relations, to Marketing and employees on the floor.

At 3M, sustainability is now a part of every employee’s performance appraisal. Coca-Cola shared that only 20% of marketers that are aware of sustainability (which is an additional lower number in itself) actually use it in their strategy. Speaking in their language is crucial. To reach IR it may require switching your pitch to an Excel language (detail, data, predictability) rather than your big-picture Powerpoint vision.  For Coca-Cola marketers, it required filtering sustainability priorities to key campaigns that tied in directly to the brand’s original mission and purpose. But of course, purpose has to be established first.

The best advice at SB? Businesses and organizations should look to their mission to find purpose. How your sustainability initiatives or products resonate with consumers and the public depends on its authenticity, which means its direct connection to your purpose as a brand. Aria Finger, CEO of dosomething.org gave us the run-down on the millenial consumer, advising that they value transparancy and honesty, not perfection, the most. Therefore, sticking to an issue that is core to your brand, not just a hot-topic, is crucial. She also shared that failure in the pursuit of an honest product or campaign is more commendable (and may even be profitable if manipulated in the right way) than perfection in something that has little connection to purpose and mission.

Prioritizing what you want to tackle, (i.e water, poverty) not only requires a materiality analysis looking at stakeholder importance and business reputation, but also requires prioritizing what to exclude, what to  practice internally, what to carry over externally, and what to fight for.

One of the most interesting insights of SB  was the presence of the city it took place in. During the event there was a learning process about the City of San Diego, which is not often mentioned as a champion of sustainability, but is currently making some of the most aggressive and admirable commitments to a sustainable future.

We learned about the legally binding climate plan that will transform the city to 100% renewable energy by 2035, in addition to strong zero waste and sustainable transit initiatives. In an effective example of partnership we witnessed the city’s utility, public agency infrastructures like the San Diego Airport, and the city itself aligning under the common goal for a more healthy, livable, and ultimately sustainable city for it’s residents. Expect to add San Diego to your list of cities like Aspen and Copenhagen in the coming years.

On the last day, we were asked for 30 seconds of silence to think about the most important takeaways we would bring with us when we returned back to our respective homes, offices, and life-missions. I sat and thought of every open, smiling person I had connected with, from marketing managers and biomass engineers to consultants and advisors (like me) and realized how there wasn’t a single conversation in which there was  lack of common ground. We all were able to speak in one way or another around our shared culture, which…sure, is of sustainability, but also is of awareness and a common consciousness about our responsibility to the planet. And if we could make that common culture accessible to the rest of the world,  that was the real take-away.

At the United Nations: Energy in Focus / At the SE4ALL – “Sustainable Energy for All” Forum

Commentary by Selene Lawrence, Analyst, G&A Institute

June 4th, 2014

Today I fittingly utilized New York City’s waterways and hitched a ride on the East River Ferry to the United Nations complex, where the first day of panels at the SE4ALL — Sustainable Energy for All — Forum — takes place.

SE4ALL echoes the UN’s Sustainable Development goals, and is also coming on the heels of the most recent Climate Summit, as well as an accelerating movement towards sustainability as a necessary part of our futures as a society.

The initiative has three ambitious global objectives for 2030: (1) universal energy access; (2) twice as much energy efficiency improvement; and (3) doubling the proportion of renewable energy use.

The forum featured a host of big industry players, including representatives of UNDP, World Bank, Bloomberg, WHO, US Department of State, academia — and of course, SE4ALL representatives.

There was a wide range of conversation taking place surrounding the topic of “Energy of Now and of the Future”; the main focal points being access, distribution, and of special interest to me as a representative of Governance & Accountability Institute, reliable and accessible sustainability reporting and data. 

One of the sessions that I attended had discussion exploring how the private and public sectors could effectively collaborate on renewable energy solutions. The panel tried to lead as an example, offering spokespersons from the Accenture Foundation such as Executive Director Scott Fast; Zia Kahn, the VP for Initiatives and Strategy of the Rockefeller Foundation; Harvey Rubin, a Professor of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania; and Christine Eibs-Singer the Senior Advisor for SE4ALL.

Various experimental projects from around the world implemented by Accenture and their recruited partners from both the public and private sector were used as examples.  The conversation led us to better understanding of the meaningful partnerships that can be developed with academia, NGO’s, investors, and  both the private and public sector. This argues that the ability to succeed in Sustainable Development is dependent on the fostering, advocating, and closing of such partnerships.

Depending on the other sectors, and also cross-sector collaboration to break down sectorial silos, was key to the success, we learned, and I believe also key and relevant here in sustainability reporting.

A panel I found most relevant to our work here at G&A and with our partner GRI, was one entitled:  Knowledge Hub for SE4ALL: Research consortium & analytical agenda. The panel included the Deputy Director of IIASA, a research and data hub, Nebojsa  Nakicenovic ; Vivien Foster, Sector Manager of Sustainable Energy Unit at the World Bank; Letha Tawney from World Resources Institute;  and Doug Arent, Acting Center Director of the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

This panel introduced the SE4ALL data hub, which has a Global Tracking Framework to measure how countries are performing in the field of Sustainable Energy. This resource measures Access to Energy with indicators such as measuring the percentage of a population with an electricity connection, but also looks at Renewable Resources and emissions.

Vivian Foster of the World Bank described the framework; it has encountered difficulty measuring output (common in the field), but its strong point seems to be measuring access.

I met with panel speaker Letha Tawney, the Senior Analyst at WRI, discussing with her which norms companies commonly use to assess their GHG emissions (against other companies’ performance). I asked her how the transparency of GHG emissions and use of renewable energies provided by sustainability reporting for public sector utilities in place now by GRI, and others could be useful here.  Also, how SE4ALL indicators could help build on them.

Her response gave voice to the general complaints on the lack of regulation in the reporting numbers that WRI’s corporate partners could actually use. She described it as the dilemma of not using apples-to-apples for comparison, and that reporting in this field should produce numbers that are more useful for comparison. That seems to be the problem across the field, where numerous metrics and frameworks are being produced but few are apples to apples, as the saying goes.

Further collaborations (as emphasized in the earlier panel) between the public and private sectors) might produce solutions. And although sustainability reporting is chiefly intended for stakeholders and the public, reporting is not (yet) regulated, the way financial performance is.

The common question I heard several times during the sessions: why not make the reporting translatable to public policy and the rigors of academic research?

In the USA we are one of the few countries where information about energy output and use is systemically gathered, facilitating comparisons and knowledge that can be easily shared. Having data and information about sustainability issues that is comparable and share-able is the way to make real  progress.

At the forum there was considerable buzz about President Barack Obama’s new carbon rule (announced early in the week). This action was cited by speakers on various panels and in informal chatter in the UN complex hallways.

As for sustainability reporting with inclusion of more data and more emphasis on energy, we will soon see if the future has in store for us regulated and standardized metrics for providing data on energy use from the public, private (or both) sectors of our economy.





“The Girl Effect”: Empowering Girls in the Developing World

By: Selene Lawrence
GRI Data Partner Report Analyst, Governance & Accountability Institute


Selene Lawrence Headshot

In 2008, the Nike Foundation channeled their foundation’s experience in the developing world to take part in a new empowerment and education initiative called “The Girl Effect”. The project was created in partnership between Nike and the NoVo Foundation, which searches for sustainable, bottom-up approaches to promote social and economic development. It is co-chaired by Jennifer and Peter Buffet, as well as the United Nations Foundation and Coalition for Adolescent Girls.

The Girl Effect targets vulnerable adolescent girls in the developing world by using funding, awareness and volunteer work to address and uproot the stem of poverty and inequality. The Girl Effect focuses on education, healthcare, and policy to change the lives of millions of young girls threatened by adolescent pregnancy and the debilitating effects poverty. The approach is multi-faceted; the initiative operates by reaching out to NGO’s, volunteers, policy makers, donors and community activists to spread awareness and attract the necessary partners they need to make a difference.

Monetary donations to The Girl Effect from corporations or individuals can be designated to a variety of projects that they either support or have created. To encourage donations the foundation suggests: “Send a girl to school”, “Help her fight a legal case”, “Give her a microloan” or “Start the Girl Effect”. The organization has protocols in place to start the process.

The Nike Foundation’s projects are impressive in their range of approaches. Examples of their twelve innovative, girl-focused projects include programs for Uganda’s adolescent girls which a US$ 30 donation provides 3 washable feminine hygiene kits that girls can utilize for up to 3 years, and a US$ 50 donation provides 250 health and education manuals to girls participating in Teen Girls Workshops throughout the year.

In Zimbabwe, US$ 60 will provide 10 orphaned girls training about their legal rights. In Cambodia, a program has been established that empowers girls rescued from sex slavery where a range of donation levels gives girls their own jewelry making kit to provide income and the capital to provide medical examinations. A US$ 140 dollar donation covers tuition, housing, and medical care for two months.

The Teen Mother Empowerment Program in Cameroon will use a US$ 100 donation to cover the materials and logistics for one group of teen mothers to obtain a microloan. Not only are young girls extremely vulnerable, but they also represent the future and their programs in early education, such as providing pre-schooling for girls’ children in Ghana, foster awareness and education at an early age.

These examples are just a fraction of their donation-based programs which are extremely impressive in the scale, variety and organization of programs that are at the forefront in tackling girls’ issues in the developing world.

Although The Girl Effect is Nike’s biggest initiative with the widest array of partners and networks, the Nike Foundation also created “Girl Hub” in collaboration with the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) in 2010. Girl Hub actively engage adolescents in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Rwanda in encouraging participation in family planning, outreach, and resource planning. This work, along with The Girl Effect is setting-up the empowerment of young girls on a local level with the resources essential for development.

Through Girl Hub they have created a radio-drama program in Ethiopia called Yenga (ours). The broadcast has a program with characters that reflect the lives of so many of its listeners, young girls dealing with and overcoming violence, teenage marriage and pregnancy, staying in school etc. Immediately following Yenga is a talk show that hosts recognized journalists and artists who address the issues presented in the drama. This is an exciting, actively engaging way for young, isolated and impoverished girls to gain confidence and foster independent ideas.

Yenga has produced a music video for a song in the show called “Abet”, which translated means: We Are Here. This video has been viewed 500,000 times in Ethiopia, which The Girl Effect proudly states is the fifth most watched video in the country. Permeating the minds of young girls as well as providing the resources and outlets to gain resources is the spark towards change.

In 2013 The Girl Effect produced the official “Girl Declaration” in collaboration with the development organizations with whom they partner. This declaration incorporated the input of 508 impoverished girl voices from around the world. The declaration has goals, targets, and principles as well as individual stories that map out the goals of The Girl Effect and provide a framework for The United Nations and other organizations to address the problem. UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon publicly backed the declaration stating: “To achieve meaningful results, we need fresh solutions to girls’ education challenges and we must heed the voices of young people.” The Girl Declaration has demanded and received attention from the political world to aid the change that the Nike Foundation and their global partners seek to achieve.

In October 2013 The Girl Effect, as well as multiple foundations that work alongside Nike, promoted the second annual International Day of the Girl (IDG). This special event emphasized the continued need for prioritizing young girls in the development agenda.

Targeting communities and individuals though education, culturally relevant and engaging economic initiatives has been the breakthrough in modern sustainable development theory, and Nike has used their advantages to make headway in the field. Nike is putting young girls as a priority on the path towards a healthier and independent sustainable global community.

About the Author: Selene Lawrence is a GRI Data Partner Report Analyst at Governance & Accountability Institute (the exclusive GRI data partner in the US, UK, and Ireland).  While analyzing Nike’s sustainable business report, a GRI-G3 Application Level B report, she came across this wonderful program. She is also an Undergraduate student at Hunter College, City University of New York, and expects to graduate in Fall 2014. Selene is using her experience at Governance & Accountability Institute to gain insight in applying sustainability to the corporate world and improving transparency.

Visit http://www.girleffect.org/ to explore their programs, watch videos and find ways to get involved.

Watch “Abet” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjqCEZO04yc