Sustainable Brands 2018: 5 Questions With CEO KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz

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Sustainable Brands 2018 Vancouver

Since 2006, Sustainable Brands has built a global community of innovators who are reshaping their businesses through the lens of purpose-driven brand innovation. Sharing insights, successes, strategies and takeaways from their efforts, Sustainable Brands is a year-round eco-system of brand, sustainability and design innovation professionals, along with social entrepreneurs and partners, who relish the opportunity to meet in person to inspire, learn and support each other—as they will be starting Monday, when Sustainable Brands ’18 gets underway in Vancouver.

KoAnn Skrzyniarz - Sustainable Brands CEOWith a goal to “inspire, engage and equip today’s business and brand leaders to prosper for the near and long term by leading the way to a sustainably abundant future,” Sustainable Life Media and Sustainable Brands Founder and CEO KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz (right) and her team have been busy putting together a powerhouse global flagship event, roster of speakers, activities and sessions for this year’s program. (Interested in attending? brandchannel readers receive a 20% ticket discount.) Find out more about SB’18 below:

KoAnn, what’s new this year?  

We’re moving into year two of our three-year exploration of the pivot taking place in global societal assumptions about what the “Good Life” looks like, and how brands can help us lean into that to help steer us toward a sustainable future. Our focus this year is on the opportunities, strategies, skills and tools for redesigning brands and culture for that better life of the future.

We’ve been intentional about bringing new design thinkers to the table who can help us with this exploration. People like Nick Udall at NowHere and Cheryl Heller, a world-recognized thought leader in design for social innovation, as well as firms like IDEO will help contribute to the conversation.

We’re also pushing harder into the CMO suite, and are delighted that Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at P&G has chosen Sustainable Brands to launch their new brand purpose platform which demonstrates the direction we are advocating—for brands to be embedding environmental and social purpose into the heart of their business and brands, and to be using their brand platforms to help influence and support more sustainable lifestyles.

Sustainable Brands 2018

Other than registrations and sponsorships, how do you measure success for each event?

For us, success is measured in community feedback and the connections we learn have been made which lead to productive change. More and more, our community is looking toward co-creation and collaboration as a way to drive more disruptive shift against the goals and objectives we share.

This year, in particular, we have collaborated with a set of our advisory board members—a group that includes representatives from WRI, Iron Mountain, Danone, Campbell’s Soup Company, P&G and others—to launch a new tool for helping drive brand transformation toward becoming a fully sustainable brand.

We’re also launching a community-wide Diversity & Inclusion initiative to help develop brand stances on this important topic, as well as to explore how we can help attract more diversity into our fields. Finally, we’re working on the design of a new multi-brand study to explore best practices in encouraging sustainable living through brand communications, which we think has the potential for enormous impact.

Consumers are demanding transparency and openness around brand and corporate policies, and companies are under pressure to walk their talk on purpose, mission, values. What are you noticing from your perspective about the evolution of sustainability?

I completely agree that there’s pressure to align external brand positioning with a purpose beyond profit—and this in itself is no longer even enough. Companies are being called to operate in a way that mitigates the negative and extends the positive impact a brand has on all its stakeholders, not just its investors or customers, so the bar is being raised across the board.

The good news is we’re seeing more and more brands of all sizes getting this, and working hard to change their own behavior and priorities. But even more importantly, we’re seeing increasing recognition that the changes that need to be implemented in their own operations require collaboration to be practically possible—and the willingness to come to the table with others (even, in some cases, with competitors) is increasing, I’m happy to say.

SB’18 is being held in Vancouver, a stunning city that prides itself on being a gateway to BC’s natural wonders. You’ve also got Vancouver officials at the event; what will they be sharing, and how will participants be able to enjoy what the city offers while at the conference? 

Vancouver is taking extraordinary strides to become the greenest city in the world and we’re proud to be leveraging their commitment as a backdrop to our global conversation. City Manager Sadhu Johnston will be sharing more on opening night, so I won’t steal his thunder.

More and more we’re seeing our community want to break free of the confines of a convention facility and get out to experience what can be learned from each other and from the place at hand. Providing a moment of restoration is core to our brand value proposition, and getting outside is part of that, so we will once again be offering many opportunities to do this, from tree plantings in Stanley Park to boat excursions to yoga along the waterfront and more. We’re also launching a new Cohorts program to help people new to the community quick-start relationships that can help them gain more value from becoming part of the tribe.

Also, there are plenty of local Canadian brands who have been leaders for a long while and whose stories we’re happy to be amplifying this year. Lululemon, Lush Cosmetics, MEC, VanCity, Telus and others will all be part of the conversation and all bring breakthrough innovation stories across apparel, personal care, finance and communications sectors, to name a few. Expect to be inspired by the stories from stage, but also by the people who will participate in interactive dialogue in the Innovation Labs taking place on the Activation Hub floor and more.

Given your mission of helping create better, more sustainable brands, what takeaways do you hope participants bring back to their jobs?

I hope people will leave with 1) a renewed sense that we’re on the right track—both because our planet and its people require our work, and because we are collectively more ready to take it on, and 2) that design is a skill set we all need to further develop, and that the amount of redesign of our brands, organizations, lifestyles and economic systems that needs to take place is significant and can’t be left to an isolated set of consultants. We all need to get comfortable rethinking the way we make and do everything.

And lastly, I hope people leave with the recognition that we need to come at it from a sense of possibility and wonder and hope, rather than from the assumption that a dystopian future is where we’re headed. I firmly believe that we will create what we imagine, and that individually, and collectively, we need to start imagining better, and stop ourselves from all the time we spend wallowing in the possibility of doom. We can make a delightful flourishing happen, but it starts with belief and imagination—and then the commitment to design for that future.


brandchannel is a media partner of Sustainable Brands ’18. Click here for more information and to register.

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