We all grew up with some idea of what the good life looks like. Films and television underlined what made life worthwhile and much of it, until recently was about "stuff."
Words like sustainable and ecosystem have moved light years from environmentalists and alternative lifestyle advocates, to the center of the business world.
Increasingly, leaders of great places to work are talking about how we operate as a system. Rather than simply take what we want and ignore our impact on each other and on the earth, we are learning to rely on each other.
When I interviewed the CEO of Sustainable Brands, KoAnn Skrzyniarz at her San Francisco headquarters I considered myself lucky. This is a woman on a mission and she was just between whirlwind trips around the world.
Her eyes light up when she talks about the progress that business has made. "A strong sustainability commitment is becoming a proxy for a well run business these days. While the financial bottom-line remains as important as ever, more and more are considering how their products impact the earth and the people involved with delivering the product to market."
With her open manner and vast level of curiosity she asked me "What does sustainability mean to you?"
It's not often I hear the words sustainability and systems thinking in the work world. I mentioned that in our Total Leadership Connections Program we spend a great deal of time looking at how all aspects of a situation weave together. And one of our themes is "We're all connected and no one wins unless we all do."
KoAnn nodded and underlined my comment. "We launched Sustainable Brands with the view that sustainability is about the interconnections between people, planet and profit. And these three ARE interconnected. There can be no such thing as long term healthy profits if consideration is not given for how our products contribute or detract from the health of our environment, our communities and our customers."
This is an idea whose time is now.
In 2007, the first Sustainable Brands event was held, drawing 225 pioneers in this field. Last year the organization reached more than 1 million people through its' online publishing operation at sustainablebrands.com and held major events in 13 cities and on 6 continents.
This is a time for all of us to rethink profit and purpose. The goal now is to shift the world as quickly as possible to sustainable models of commerce that respect the limitations of our natural systems.
Embedding sustainability as a mindset and daily practice into all people around the world is core to the transformation Sustainable Brands is about. KoAnn pointed to some great companies willing to change their marketing to help shift consumer mindset and behavior.
She talked about Patagonia's "Don't Buy This Jacket" campaign as an example of helping shift consumers from thinking they need to buy more to be happy, to thinking that buying quality goods that last longer is a path to a simpler and happier life."
The word transformation is a strong part of her vocabulary. You can hear the pride when she talks about companies that have made deep changes from the way they used to operate. "It's one thing to launch a company with the intention of doing things differently. It's quite another to steer a huge global ship to a new way of operating. We believe helping global companies learn from social entrepreneurs is one path to driving toward the future we want."
Ever the pragmatist, she continued "One way or another, we need to help them make big changes. Let's face it, the bulk of the world's natural resources, are consumed by large global companies to deliver the products they sell to their customers. Global brands employ a huge percentage of the worlds' workforce, so we need them to get healthy as fast as possible."
Unilever is a great example of a company that has been steadily turning its ship for more than a decade. Through their sustainable living plan, they are committed to doubling their growth, while halving their environmental footprint and making a positive difference on a billion people's lives -- and they're doing it.
When I left my time with KoAnn I noticed myself paying more attention to, well, everything. The way food is packaged, the way I choose what to buy, even the way I am wasteful without thinking about it.
The core of the program is to gain insight into critical environmental factors affecting our ecosystem. Here you learn to bring sustainable solutions to communities and organizations.
Join with courageous optimists reshaping the economy for the better at the organization's flagship event in Detroit in May - and learn from the change agents who want you to be part of the new world of positive impact and profitability.
My thanks to KoAnn for spearheading such a positive revolution for the good of all of us.