Sustainable Brands San Diego Conference calls for creativity and acceleration

by Shannon Houde

The 2014 Sustainable Brands Conferensustainablece kicked off in sunny San Diego, California last month with the theme of Reimagine. Redesign. Regenerate.

In his opening remarks, Mark Lee, Executive Director at SustainAbility, framed the event as a week of “what if that might just change the world.” His comments were energizing and thought provoking, while also providing a sobering truth that, although the private sector is making great strides in sustainability, the pace and scale of innovation might still need to accelerate to meet today’s biggest global challenges.

Ellen Weinreb, a partner and colleague, said the conversation felt very relevant. “KoAnn (Sustainable Brands CEO/Founder) does a really lovely job of bringing inside the conversation that which is usually perceived as ‘out there’ and on the fringe”.


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While I could not attend the event in person this year, I followed the discussion closely. Here are a few key points that rang particularly true to me.

Sustainability professionals and sustainable brands are quite similar

When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. We’ve all drunk the Kool-aid. Millennials and other career changers trying to change roles or break into the sustainability sector want to work for organizations that share their passion and ideals. At the same time, those organizations are looking to attract and retain top talent with the skills and reflexive abilities to tackle big issues. So why shouldn’t we all be walking the talk? Anyone looking to make a name for themselves in this space, from the wide-eyed new grad to the seasoned ex- banker, needs to live and breathe by the same three principles (and they are good ones!):

  1. Be authentic. It’s been said many times that the greatest leadership asset is authenticity. London-based consultancy Salterbaxer released a report last year on rules of being authentic and why consistency matters in business. If companies are required to be transparent and authentic, then individuals must be too. By being true to your authentic self, you can identify your strengths, what you want to achieve, and what you have to offer the market. At the end of the day, you have to know yourself in order to sell yourself to others.
  2. Be purpose driven. Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, spoke on what it means to be purpose driven, and explained purpose as a powerful filter through which to make important decisions. She pointed out that purpose driven companies are often the best performing. It’s no surprise this stood out to me. One of the main things I work on with my coaching clients is how to turn your passion into purpose and pay. Once you have identified what you are passionate about, the next step is transforming that passion into a career reality.
  3. Don’t miss the shift. Later in her speech, Ms. Morrison went on to quote a piece of sage advice she was once given by an IBM executive to not ‘miss the shift’. The impact sector is constantly evolving, and if you want to stay relevant, you’d better keep up. In short, adapt, evolve and innovate, guided by purpose, so you don’t miss the shifts. While this creates challenges for companies and job seekers it also presents exciting opportunities to allow innovation to redefine traditional thinking and business as usual.

So, what does this mean for job seekers? Just as small and large companies alike are striving to keep their brands relevant by using a sustainability lens, impact job seekers must also stay one step ahead of the curve by anticipating what these companies will want and need. Then, you can position yourself by mapping your skills and expertise to emerging initiatives and trends, or possibly even identify an area of need that hasn’t been addressed yet.

So if you are a brand or a job seeker you need to keep an eye on the shift while staying authentic to your purpose.

View the full list of conference speakers, videos and future events here.


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