by Kirstie Dabbs – G&A Institute Sustainability Reports Analyst and G&A Sustainability Analyst Intern Team Leader
Sustainable Brands hosted its “SB ’21 Trend Watching“ event (virtually) on February 23, 2021. Covering the intersecting crises from 2020 and opportunities that lie ahead for stakeholders in 2021, the event was full of information about the increased value of purpose for consumers, brands, and leaders.
I present here brief recaps of select sessions with content that will be of value to many of our blog readers.
Session Spotlight: “What We Learned About Ourselves in 2020”
Dimitar Vlahov, Senior Sustainability, Regeneration & Brand Transformation Expert at SB kicked off the event with an overview of key trends reflecting the state of our planet, society, and business environment, including:
- Increasing existential risks related to biodiversity collapse. This, he said, is “very real and very close.” With one million species currently at risk, and global wildlife populations down 68% since 1970, humans and livestock now comprise 96% of all existing mammals. Only 4% of mammals on earth are in the wild. This is a tragic and very dangerous imbalance, he posited.
- Growing presence of climate grief and climate anxiety in youth and young adults
- Erosion of social /societal cohesion.
- Increased focus on racial justice. Because this is such an important trend, Sustainable Brands will host a Just Brands event devoted exclusively to social and racial justice in May 2021.
- Widening digital inequality.
- Rise of intentional (and unintentional) spread of false news. False news stories on Twitter travel six (6x) times faster than true / factual stories, according to a recent MIT study.
- Declining trust in institutions, specifically national governments, global companies, and the media.
- Signs of collapsing multilateralism.
- Rising inequality of stock market holdings in the United States of America. U.S. families in the top 1% of net worth hold nearly 40% of overall equities, while families whose net worth falls in the bottom 50% hold only 1% of overall equities, according to Survey of Consumer Finances data presented by The New York Times.
- Growing commitments to Stakeholder Capitalism have yet to be supported by appropriate levels of action. Despite the promise made by 180 members of the Business Roundtable (BRT) to redefine the purpose of a corporation as benefiting all stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers and local communities in addition to shareholders) very few have apparently amended their governing purpose guidelines beyond the long-term focus on the Professor Milton Friedman school of shareholder primacy.
- Increase in Science Based Targets on climate. Over 1,000 companies worldwide are working on science-based emissions reduction targets through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Exciting news: methodologies are also being developed for setting science-based targets for water, land use, forests, biodiversity, and oceans as well – described below.
Session Spotlight: “Goal Setting & Innovation: Critical Environmental Thresholds”
Kevin Moss, Global Director of the Center for Sustainable Business at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Chair of the Science Based Targets Network, moderated this discussion with Lina Constantinovici, Founder and Executive Director of Innovation 4.4 and Roberta Barbieri, PepsiCo VP of Global Water and Environmental Solutions.
The session covered new developments around science-based targets (SBTs) for all aspects of nature: biodiversity, climate, freshwater, land, and oceans.
This, of course, in addition to SBTs for climate, which are gaining popularity. This important work is being performed by the Science Based Targets Network, comprised of 20 nonprofits including World Resources Institute. Science-based targets for nature, geared toward cities and companies, will be released by 2022. Initial guidance for business is already available in this 2020 report.
Developing methodologies for these targets poses a challenge, due to contextual variations of resources based on region, accessibility, and use. Freshwater use in a water-scarce region has different limitations than in a non-water-scarce region.
Nevertheless, these targets will be critical in the management of the global commons that power not only our economy, but our very existence.
The SBT Network is currently partnering with private sector companies to pilot targets to determine their feasibility and effectiveness.
Important news: PepsiCo has signed on to pilot a freshwater target wherein each water-scarce watershed in its supply chain will have a unique target for water management.
PepsiCo knows that freshwater is material to its business and has been focused on water stewardship for years. Adopting a science-based freshwater target will inform the Company about what is required to alleviate water risks, and how far it is from achieving its own water targets.
As Roberta Barbieri pointed out, if PepsiCo is water insecure, other companies are as well. She hopes that this pilot will influence other companies to participate in such work going forward.
Lina Constantinovici shared the mission of Innovation 4.4, which is to accelerate the commercialization and deployment of water, energy, health, materials science and space technology most critical to the achievement of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Her session highlighted the critical issues facing oceans today, sharing that oceans are Earth’s most valuable asset, contributing US$70 trillion to global GDP annually and over 50% of the oxygen we breathe.
Yet — the quantity of plastic in oceans is expected to outnumber fish by 2050, and UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water – is second to last in terms of the funding it receives compared to the other SDGs.
For this reason, Innovation 4.4 developed a multi-pronged strategy to innovate for better oceans. Initiatives include Oceans Funders, which enables a more aligned and informed approach to funding ocean solutions, and Oceans Prize, a contest to find plastic alternatives and remove existing plastic from oceans.
Global collaboration and ambitious thinking will be required to tackle our global challenges, of which oceans and freshwater are only two examples. The forthcoming SBTs for nature will allow organizations to measure and take responsibility for their environmental resource use.
Perhaps in a few years’ time we’ll be so lucky as to hear about 1,000 companies working toward such targets. This SB ’21 Trendwatching event provided cause for stakeholder to be optimistic that the rise of brand purpose will help to move us in that direction.
About Author Kirstie Dabbs
2021 Intern Team Leader
G&A Sustainability Reports Research Intern
Kirstie Dabbs is currently pursuing an MBA in Sustainability, with a focus on Circular Value Chain Management, at Bard College in New York. Her fluency in corporate disclosure stems from the program’s emphasis on the Integrated Bottom Line. As an MBA student she has enjoyed developing sustainability strategies for public, private and nonprofit organizations.
In her role as an Associate Consultant for Red Queen Group in New York City, Kirstie provides organizational analyses and support for nonprofits undergoing strategic or management transitions. Her rich background as a project manager at The Metropolitan Opera has informed this role, and she remains an enthusiastic supporter of the visual and performing arts.
Kirstie is also a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, an organization led by former Vice President Al Gore that promotes awareness of climate change worldwide, and is a contributor to GreenHomeNYC, a resource for green building and career development in the New York metropolitan area.