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Here’s my latest for Sustainable Brands.

Here are three new examples of the CVS Effect in action that show how brands can change how business operates — for the better (the “CVS Effect” is shorthand for recognizing brands that are doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do). In these cases, the “right thing” is choosing to share information and resources, even when there’s a risk of losing market dominance or taking a financial hit.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a surge in businesses coming together to work on sustainability issues that span entire supply chains, affect sectors as a whole and transcend location. It’s been called collaborative competition, co-opetition, and the Collaboration Economy.

A well-known example is the three-year-old Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Another is what Sustainable Brands ’14 attendees experienced inside the conference’s Activation Hub tent. This convivial, shared physical space showed how collaborative conversations and sharing knowledge can work in the real world, in real time.

And just last week, the open innovation platform LAUNCH announced its newest System Challenge for breakthrough ideas in Green Chemistry.

But while these examples are important, they’re about strength in numbers. What I’d like to highlight in the examples below are these leaders’ willingness to stick their necks out beyond a short-term horizon to a possibility of radically transformed marketplaces

On June 12, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk announced he’s making the electric car company’s secret, patented information available to everyone, in order to turbocharge the rollout of electric vehicles (EVs).

The potential risk, of course, is that competitors that have lagged in the EV space might now leapfrog ahead of Tesla in the marketplace. This could be a real-life Innovator’s Dilemma, if you will, where the person who initially creates a new product, service or market gets crushed by the ones who follow.

But as a long play, it’s a good bet. Tesla can’t roll out electric cars if there’s nowhere to charge them and no one interested in buying them. Giving away the company’s patents raises the floor for all players — it’s like the ultimate golf handicap — for faster, broader EV innovation and adoption that good for everyone (Only a week later, Nissan & BMW are reportedly discussing how to work together on charging networks).

Then on June 16, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that the coffee giant wants to help its 135,000 workers go to college — for free. The reasons he gave for this move are to help close the inequality gap and help more Americans graduate from college without debt.

My first thought about the potential risks is that Starbucks stands to lose trained workers once they have a college degree in hand and are better qualified for jobs outside of Starbucks.

But that’s not what’s likely to happen. PwC’s 2013 NextGen research shows that millennial workers want to work for companies that care about more than the bottom line. So this “goodwill” benefit may wind up making Starbucks’ people — now better educated, college-degree holding — even more loyal.

This move is also notable because it blows the traditional tuition reimbursement benefit out of the water in terms of breadth and scope. A partnership with digital learning giant ASU offers Starbucks more opportunities to more workers companywide than would be economically feasible with the old reimburse-money-for-grades model.

And finally, on June 17, SAP’s 6-week MOOC course “Sustainability and Business Innovation” ended, having attracted over 16,000 students (including me).

Course instructor and SAP CSO Dr. Peter Graf was a knowledgeable, personable guide to how SAP approaches sustainability innovation. His weekly videos made the course feel like a personal experience, even though I was one of thousands in a global virtual classroom.

The potential risks here are the same as Tesla’s, albeit at a much lower wattage. By pulling the curtain back on how SAP innovates for its clients, there’s the chance that others will do just that.

Obviously, the course brought the company good press. But I believe the real reason is about leadership. Since SAP is in the business of helping companies manage their resources more effectively, it has knowledge and experience to share that can help jump-start sustainability innovation and progress across industries and sectors.

When it comes to sustainable innovation and sustainable supply chains, I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. And that it’s the leaders from forward-looking brands — such as Musk, Schultz and Graf — who are turning that tide and can be examples for others to follow.

As Schultz told host Jon Stewart, “We can’t wait for Washington. We’ve got to step up as we have done in the past and demonstrate true leadership.”

What Schultz is saying is backed up by strategist Alice Korngold’s compelling conclusion that corporations are the only thing that can save the world. But she’s not suggesting that companies go it alone. Her research shows that companies need to work with others, especially NGOs and other businesses, and “engage effectively with stakeholders; recognize that sustainability is a matter for board governance; and commit to accountability and transparency.”

By stepping up and proactively sharing their resources, these leaders will help us move us faster to the tipping points we need for adopting sustainable business practices everywhere.

My bet is that these moves will pay off in a stronger, more robust marketplace where there’s room for everyone to grow and thrive.

***

What if I told you that you could lead a fictional, $100M, triple-bottom-line company for five years—in just three days? You’d have the experience of running a sustainable business successfully—or into the ground—risk free.

As a leader, you’d strategize and negotiate with heads of marketing, finance, HR, production, sustainability, and sales, then put the business plan you’ve developed into action. You’d get to try out different market approaches and operational strategies. See what works best for your company and compete against other companies to achieve profits while improving conditions for both people and the planet. And you’d gain all the insights that come from learning by doing, with your leadership team, and the support of expert instructors.

That’s what our July 30-Aug. 1 program is all about: “LeaderShip for Sustainability: People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy.”

“We are pleased to offer this program to deliver important lessons on leading a profitable business while also making a positive contribution to our society,” said the Honorable John McKernan, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “This type of expert instruction is an essential part of our efforts to strengthen America’s long-term competitiveness.”

We’re hosting this program to respond to the challenges that our supporters and the wider business community tell us they’re facing. Whether your business is micro-sized or enterprise, we’re all dealing with the new normal described by Andrew Winston in The Big Pivot: resource constraints, weather challenges, changeable markets, and our connected world’s radical transparency. We all want to take care of people and the planet for tomorrow, as well as achieving profits today.

But actually making sustainability happen—at scale—and with the speed required—poses huge practical leadership challenges.

Which is why LeaderShip for Sustainability is a great choice. This course teaches not only established—but also emerging and high-potential people—how to be sustainability leaders in every part of the company.

No matter what your job title, as leaders and sustainability champions in our companies each of us has to understand the bigger picture for triple-bottom-line success that engages people to responsibly manage planet resources while generating profits. That means not only operations expertise, but also marketing, finance, human resources, IT and supply chain management skills.

Here are some of the ways that this course is different:

Gamification: Participants play an online business simulation where teams compete head-to-head to build and grow a triple-bottom-line company. Each team starts with $28M total assets to run their company over 5 years, completely risk-free.

Financials and metrics: The game forces players to wrangle with balance sheets, weigh debt decisions, and balance competing priorities. Many non-finance program alums report that this gave them a completely new understanding and appreciation of the CFO’s role in achieving sustainable outcomes.

Networking and support:The course continues after the three days in Washington, D.C. with in-depth follow-up calls to help you apply what you learned to your company’s goals and challenges. And you’ll join a community of fellow program alums that include senior and middle level leaders from BASF, Honeywell, Novartis, Alcoa, Church and Dwight, Sanofi, and Alcatel-Lucent.

The course is led by Dr. Jeana Wirtenberg (author of the new 2014 book Building a Culture for Sustainability, with a foreword by Andrew Winston) and her team from Transitioning to Green.

Please take a look at the program description and register today. The Early Bird discount ends June 30. Registration. CCC supporters receive a discount off registration.

Questions? Please reach out to me at jgerholdt@USChamber.comor Jeana Wirtenberg, Ph.D. at 973-335-6299 or jwirtenberg@transitioningtogreen.com.

Hope to see you at the end of July.

Here’s my feature story from Day 3 of the Sustainable Brands 2014 conference, held June 1-5 in San Diego, CA.

* * *

Kicking off Wednesday, the third day of the SB’14 San Diego conference, business leaders, social entrepreneurs, business disruptors and innovators presented a full morning of business challenges and opportunities to attendees gathered in the Paradise Ballroom and online across the globe. With the overarching theme of “Redesign” dominating the conversations, the morning plenaries focused on ways that brands can answer the question, “What if?” in ways that just might change the world.

SustainAbility’s Mark Lee kicked off the Wednesday morning plenaries by posing the challenge of moving forward from yesterday’s “Reimagine” theme of brands being net positive, taking big pivots and inspiring new visions of our cities and communities.

“Today’s speakers will share insights from the front lines of resigning products, services and their business models,” he said. “The ‘Reimagine, Redesign, Regenerate’ framework invites us to not only think about ‘what if?’ but also to look at the bigger challenges of accelerating sustainability efforts and scale.”

Before diving into the presentations, Rich Fernandez from Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) led a series of three short exercises to remind participants to simply breathe, cultivate response flexibility and to consider a Blue Sky mind.

Jeremiah Owyang

Jeremiah Owyang

Jeremiah Owyang, Founder & Chief Catalyst for Crowd Companies, got the morning going with his talk on how brands are leading the collaborative economy. “The collaborative economy is the place where individuals can find what they need directly from each other, bypassing the business economy,” he said. And when that’s the case, he asked, “What role do corporations play if people get everything they need from each other?”

The answer is that companies are redesigning their business model to be part of the sharing economy, so that the creation of things and ownership and access are shared between people and corporations. Examples of how companies are starting to make this shift include BMW renting cars directly from the showroom lot, Walmart hosting video game exchanges, Gap partnering with Divvy Bike Sharing for a shared workforce, and Nokia letting customers design and print their own phone cases.

Eileen Howard Boone

Eileen Howard Boone

Up next was Eileen Howard Boone, SVP of CSR & Philanthropy for CVS Caremark, who received a warm welcome from the room for her company’s February 2014 decision to remove tobacco products from its stores, even in the face of billions in lost annual revenues.

“Our purpose is: Helping people on the path to better health. When you have a purpose as clear as this one, you need to look to stop doing the things that are inconsistent with that purpose. Tobacco is the #1 preventable cause of death today.

“We had to weigh what our customers, clients, leaders and others are saying and decided that tobacco has no place in that.”

Looking forward, the company is planning a robust smoking-cessation program rollout. In the spirit of the week’s ‘What if?’ theme, Boone offered: “What if the next generation is tobacco free?”

Paul Dillinger

Paul Dillinger

Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss & Co., then told the story of the company’s WellThread products, which are redesigned with the whole life cycle, environmental stewardship and worker wellbeing in mind.

“What if we took all the methods we use and instead of doing back-end problem fixing,” he said. “I promise to design without making a mess?”

As an example, asking “What if we didn’t use so much water?” helped Levi’s save 770 million liters of fresh water in just three years while keeping diversity in the color finishing. And by collaborating with other fashion brands as a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative, Levi’s is “starting to bend the curve on some of these big areas of consumption,” he said.

On the water use that comes from customer use, Dillinger suggested that people start “thinking of their cotton clothes as houseplants that need only a little bit of water and sunshine” instead of water-wasteful laundering.

Gayle Schueller

Gayle Schueller

Gayle Schueller, Chief Sustainability Officer at 3M, spoke next about how innovation processes can be tailored to local conditions in a developing economy, by sharing the story of the first patent issued in India.

She described how a local team in India invented a floorcare cloth with a scrubby corner to remove grime, which is based on understanding how people live, what they value and the pride people take in caring for their homes.

As well, the product creates a connection to the local traditions of handlooming and growing concern about waste created by the textile industry. As part of the product’s development, Schueller said that 3M is “creating a partnership with local governments to create jobs to take waste from textile manufacturers, and then to train people in rural communities where fibers can be hand-loomed.”

Dayna Baumeister

Dayna Baumeister

Dayna Baumeister, co-founder & Keystone of Biomimicry 3.8, then took the stage to ask big “What if” questions – asking Nature for redesign advice to solve societal, business and technology challenges.

She offered a series of inspiring biomimicry examples that are “built on 3.8 million years of R&D,” such as spiraled plastic bottles that require 15 percent less materials, solar panels arranged like sunflowers for 20 percent more power, and a non-toxic boat coating that mimics a symbiotic biofilm that fish grow to keep off barnacles.

She challenged the room to “Go outside and bring that knowledge and that wisdom and strategy into our labs and our design tables and ask fundamentally different questions. How can my company create conditions conducive to life?”

Next, Scott Davis, Chief Concept Officer at Panera Bread, opened his talk by sharing the challenges and lessons learned by taking a more sustainable overall approach to the company’s food. When the company initially switched to a long-term sole supplier relationship for better-tasting chicken, with great customer support, they soon realized that this was only the beginning of the challenge.

“The lesson started with our own supply chain management, because for them this was a completely disruptive way to run a business, with a single source,” he said.

In the end, Davis said, “Our sourcing chain people came together to work together with the culinary folks, to rethink what their job was, and figured out how to reduce risk on pricing, sourcing and control the quality even better.”

Redesigning how to make the business work better opened the way for more innovations, and led to this week’s announcement of Panera’s new Food Policy that focuses on clean ingredients, transparency and positive impact.

“We went on a search for taste, but what we found was that sustainability was the key to competitive advantage in our world,” he said.

Aly Khalifa

Aly Khalifa

Aly Khalifa, founder of Lyf Shoes, is redesigning what we put on our feet, and completely disrupting how we make them.

“The best ideas come out of putting all your problems together at once,” said Khalifa, so that’s what his company does by redesigning shoes that not only close the loop with recyclable and reusable materials, but also with the customer.

Lyf shoes have interlocking components that require no tools and are made with sustainable materials. The shoe can be made in 90 seconds at the store, personalized to better fit a customer’s physical needs over time, and offer unlimited possibilities for artistic and crowdsourcing collaborations.

Jason Saul

Jason Saul

Rounding out the morning’s presentations, Jason Saul, CEO of Mission Measurement, announced a new tool called the Social Value Index that redesigns how we measure the social benefits of sustainability initiatives and demonstrates their value to financial performance, growth and business success.

“The big breakthrough is that we can measure customer demand for sustainability in the same way we can measure any other traditional benefit, and then test those drivers to what actually, statistically drives purchasing intent for our products,” Saul said. “From this data we can design a social value proposition for any company,” to really show the link to the estimated revenue increase for improving the company’s Social Value Score.

Here’s my latest for Sustainable Brands.

Resources for grappling when “all perspectives seem true,” and long-established categories are crumbling

In 10 earlier parts of this series, we discussed 20 pitfalls in the sustainable business metrics field. (Find the first 7 articles here and the last three here.)

Think you have it bad trying to accurately measure and report on your company’s carbon footprint and supply chain impacts?

Perhaps you’ll feel better after hearing this cautionary tale. The journal Nature recently reported a prank played on the publishers of well-respected science journals. For reasons that aren’t completely clear, 120 completely gibberish papers made it through peer review, were published, and then withdrawn after the prank was revealed.

How on Earth could this have happened? How could such an absolutely bedrock scientific principle as peer review fail so utterly?

The answers have to do with an all-too-human reluctance to trash the work of supposed peers. Add in the biases we’re all subject to in assuming that “experts” (or at least those posing as them) know what they are talking about. You also can’t rule out simple laziness.

We’d like to add another provocative possibility to this negligence soup: that the journal editors gave a pass to the gibberish articles because, influenced by postmodernism, they assumed at some level that the authors just had a different, alternative, but legitimate view of the world.

That’s postmodernism for you.

For those former business majors who missed it in Humanities class (likely most of us), postmodernism is a school of thought that reacts against “the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality.” What a person believes about the world comes from their own personal interpretation. There are no certain and universal truths. Everything is relative. All viewpoints have inherent validity. (Think of the perception-challenging art of Warhol and Rauschenberg, and the music of Glass and Cage.)

While this may seem like a huge stretch, we think there’s real value for sustainability practitioners to consider lessons from postmodernism. Put the simplest way we can think of, acknowledging postmodernism’s influence helps us deal with nuance. Because postmodernism prioritizes skepticism and the reevaluation of assumptions, we believe it’s a rich topic that helps us acknowledge the inescapability of prejudgments and biases in our measurement frameworks as we aim for more sustainable business outcomes.

Pitfall XXI: Don’t fail to account for your audiences’ postmodern biases & “truths” and seeing things from their points of view.

Love it or hate it, postmodernist thinking — and the perspective it brings against accepted “truths” — is entrenched in our world. (Not officially, explicitly, or necessarily consciously, but it’s there.) It’s part of our hyper-connected lives, where many individuals’ experiences carry more weight than ever before. For most of history, unless you were at the very top of business, society or religious life, your experiences and opinions probably didn’t count for much outside of your inner circle.

Even just 50 years ago, much of the world had pretty much the same New York Times front page each morning. The set of facts selected and presented by a small subset of thinkers were, for the rest of us, “objective” reality. As Walter Cronkite famously signed off his newscast each evening: “And that’s the way it was.” In saying so, publically and with the weight of his “authority,” he made it true.

Today, social media offers each of us many windows on the world that reflect our individual choices and shape our experiences. Plus, we have the power to broadcast our own personal views of reality, and what things mean, to many others.

Taken to the office, this means sustainability practitioners have to grapple with bosses, colleagues, stakeholders and customers who may have very different views of what things mean, based on precisely the same data and facts you’re looking at. They probably are just as certain of their interpretation as you are of yours.

Perhaps relatedly, you may have noticed that conventional ways of categorizing things are breaking down in area after area. Things just don’t seem to stay in their proper boxes anymore. The dilemmas that come out of these shifting perspectives are right up postmodernism’s alley.

Pitfall XXII: Don’t fight most of the mushing together of conventional categories, how you choose to address them, and then how you measure the effectiveness of your actions.

A partial list of these box-rebels includes:

Luckily for us, if postmodernism contributes in some ways to the new kinds of emerging dilemmas facing sustainability practitioners, it also offers some guidance. Here are three resources: one directly about postmodernism, one that embodies it, and one from a relatively new scientific field that takes us to a similar place.

  1. Delve into this 2001 “Bioscience” journal called Dragnet Ecology—‘Just the Facts, Ma’am’: The Privilege of Science in a Postmodern World by T. F. H. Allen, Joseph A. Tainter, J. Chris Pires and Thomas W. Hoekstra. The authors argue that sustainability efforts that are modeled on Joe Friday’s forensic methods alone — “just the facts” — won’t succeed in a postmodern world because they lack the elements essential for managing problems within complex systems. They argue for scientists to become experts at crafting narratives — stories — as well as facts. By looking at things this way, the authors argue, scientists will be able to better advise business leaders and policy makers on complicated environmental problems.

    The most basic benefit here is increasing weight for an already commonly expressed need for scientists to become better communicators. This article made the case for science communication skills back in 2001, and it’s being increasingly echoed today.

    A second benefit is support for scientists who are showing a willingness to go outside of their traditional role of fact-developer, and be actual players in the policy advocacy world. This cuts against the traditional expectation that scientists do their research thing and stay out of policy/political scrums. We’re seeing increased visibility from scientists such as James Hansen (NASA & 350.org), Neil Degrasse-Tyson (“Cosmos”), and Michael E. Mann (The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars).

  2. The New Journalism movement that grew out of the 1960s civil and social tumult offers notes for acknowledging nuance, or even better, grappling with it. This kind of reporting, at its best, allowed for the writer’s active physical participation in the events of the story, with the benefit of generating unique insights.
  3. The field of behavioral economics has clear lessons for distinguishing between how we like to think we make decisions (very rationally) versus how we really do (subject to many cognitive biases affecting actually being rational).

CONCLUSIONS

While these streams of thinking run (very) outside the sustainable business mainstream, we think this approach can help you with thorny challenges of moving your company further towards sustainability, and then understand the nuances of trying to measure that.

We hope they spark new perspectives on additional current, box-escaping themes such as the:

  • deepening of stakeholder relations;
  • the emergence, coming from a number of different spheres, of actually defending emotions in decision-making and even spirituality; and
  • increasing attention to “happiness” as a way to reflect human welfare and satisfaction even within the “give-me-a-number” metrics world.

It’s important to remember that we are not advocating throwing out objectivity (or its pursuit), facts, truth, and good science. Neither are we advocating an “anything goes” world. But at the very least, just citing something as, say, objective or rational, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

A helpful tip comes from author Michael Suk-Young Chwe, who notes that, all of us, not just scientists, need to accept that full neutrality or unbiasedness is impossible. It’s a burden we shouldn’t have to bear. The trick is better self-awareness, acceptance of doubt (which science, at its best, already values), and awareness that even science is “fundamentally a human process.”

Precisely because we’re all fallible people, operating in a complex world, it ultimately works in favor of our role as sustainability problem-solver to acknowledge uncertainties in the environmental and human realms, including in how we measure things.

Maybe postmodernism isn’t so crazy after all.

Here’s my latest for Sustainable Brands.

Jeana Wirtenberg knows sustainability is about people. Living, caring human beings – who get things done.

It’s not “green.” Or “eco.” Not goals or dashboards. Not on their own, at any rate. It’s people who make these things actually happen.

Sustainability is people at every level of a business making decisions and working with their colleagues, customers and communities, day in and day out. Sustainability is people — not programs or promises — taking actions that move their company towards more sustainable business outcomes. It’s culture.

This insight is what makes Jeana Wirtenberg’s exhaustively researched but highly readable book, Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet and Profits in a New Green Economy (Praeger, 2014), stand in excellent company with other recent works such as Andrew Winston’s The Big Pivot and Arianna Huffington’s Thrive.

Specifically, this book gives readers a detailed framework to bridge the gap between what leaders say they want their companies to accomplish around sustainability and what actually gets done — by building a culture for sustainability.

With a foreward by Winston, the book is set up as a series of nine case studies based on Wirtenberg’s exclusive interviews with executives and employees from Alcoa, BASF, Church & Dwight, Ingersoll Rand, Pfizer, Sanofi, Wyndham Worldwide and Bureau Veritas.

Wirtenberg describes what people working in a “culture for sustainability” sound like, what they do, how they overcome difficulties, and how they measure their success.

Along with the case studies, Wirtenberg also offers a practical, actionable outline of the key attitudes and characteristics that these successful cultures share. The book’s meticulous appendix and index provide a keyed reference guide for building or strengthening your own company’s culture of sustainability.

Although they represent very different industries — from consumer products to chemical manufacturing — these companies share something that eludes so many: They’re successfully mainstreaming a sustainability mindset into their organization’s DNA and achieving results.

This gap between knowing and achieving is well-documented and surely familiar to Sustainable Brands readers. As an often-quoted Accenture survey put it, 93 percent of CEOs consider sustainability important to their companies’ success, but most don’t know how to make it happen.

Anyone who’s ever worked in an organization with competing priorities and pressures knows all about this gap. As Wirtenberg quotes a BASF executive as saying, “Culture is what everybody does when no one is looking.” Wirtenberg’s rigorous work proves that culture can be well understood, evaluated, improved and used to drive business performance.

That this book exists at all — the product of hundreds of hours of interviews with senior-level execs over several years — is a testament to Wirtenberg’s sterling reputation as a trusted colleague and her professional fortitude to see it through to fruition.

Considering the stakes as we race towards the 2-degree tipping point for our earth’s temperature, I think all her hard work was worth it.

As Winston and others have said, “Business cannot succeed in a world that fails.” Extending that thought one step further, business cannot succeed if the people involved aren’t working together to make it happen.

Wirtenberg’s book is a smart contribution to the growing understanding that being a sustainability leader in the business world not only enhances profitability, high-visibility breakthoughs and stakeholder reputation. True sustainability leadership is also about realizing the dreams of all people working together, at companies of all sizes, who want their children to inherit a world worth having.

That’s a culture worth building. And Wirtenberg’s book is a valuable read to help us get there.

Here’s my feature story from Day 1 of the Sustainable Brands ’14 conference, held June 1-4 in San Diego, CA.

* * *

Getting to Zero: Multiple Sectors Convene Around Deforestation at SB ’14 San Diego

When all the right people work together — from suppliers to brands who use their products to NGOs — and commit to extraordinary goals, transformational change is not only possible, it happens.

That’s what participants saw in action at Monday’s afternoon workshop on progress being made and the work ahead to support the emerging “new norm” of zero deforestation in forestry supply chain standards. Major responsible sourcing commitments in forestry in the past few years are helping protect rainforests, promote safe labor practices, and drive down carbon emissions.

Future 500 CEO Bill Shireman led a conversation with major forestry supplier Asia Paper and Pulp (APP), leading consumer-facing brands, and NGOs. Setting the stage, he said, “We’re seeing the roles that different groups play in the process of transformation—to create tipping points where change becomes transformative.”

Fresh off a 20-hour plane ride, Aida Greenbury, APP’s Managing Director for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, shared how her company’s historic 2013 Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) came about after years of activism — transformed into collaboration — with NGO partners The Forest Trust and Greenpeace. Speaking of APP’s commitments, and the contentious path to get there, Greenbury said, “It’s an unfolding story of relationships, customer requests, conversations, friction and all the history behind it.”

Senior brand leaders on the panel included Kevin Petrie from Nestlé North America, Mark Buckley of Staples, and Sarah Severn from Nike. Robin Barr from The Forest Trust, Greenpeace’s Amy Moas, and Chris Elliot from Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) represented the NGO communities.

A key theme was the process of building personal relationships based on trust in the midst of fierce disagreements on business practices, complicated and opaque supply chains, and remote physical locations. Speaking about what makes groundbreaking environmental commitments possible, Robin Barr, director of The Forest Trust said: “Transparency is the best way to build trust. You have to engage in a conversation on transformation.”

Barr discussed the importance of helping suppliers and brands recognize their responsibilities and roles to solve global problems like deforestation: “We’re all responsible because we’re all in the same supply chain.” And on the power of brands to lead change, she said, “Brands have the potential to make a difference. When you ask your suppliers to do something different or meet standards, that means something to them.”

“When one player changes the way they operate, the situation changes,” she saiid.

Shifting to the brand perspective, Kevin Petrie shared how Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value program for water, nutrition and rural development responsibility led to the company’s 2010 announcement that Nestlé products will not be associated with deforestation. And from there, how this led to responsible palm oil sourcing commitments.

A fascinating part of the discussion centered on the complicated issues brands face reestablishing purchasing relationships, once supplier deforestation commitments are in place and shown to be working. Mark Buckley, VP of Environmental Affairs at Staples, shared the challenges of moving away from a supplier relationship and then stepping back into it. Petrie noted that Nestlé will examine buying from APP again once assurance audits are done.

As well as the relationship between suppliers, brands and NGOs, brands are working together on issues where they share common interests, specifically climate policy. Severn spoke about her company’s collaborations with other leading brands as a BICEP founding member, a Climate Declaration signatory, and the We Mean Business coalition.

“It’s not good enough to be silent,” she said. “Our legislators need to know that companies care.”

The roundtable was the first meeting of a new multi-stakeholder initiative led by Future 500 and Sustainable Brands. The group seeks to bring together major brands, suppliers and NGOs to solve problems by redesigning how stakeholders can work together, instead of as combatants, to fully tap the power of supply chains to drive sustainability. Shireman encouraged anyone interested in participating in future conservations like this to contact him.

This conversation continues today at a 2pm breakout session on Avery Dennison’s responsible paper sourcing policy in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance.

Summing up the roundtable, Shireman referred to each responsible sourcing commitment as a domino, or multiplier, for reaching the tipping point of zero deforestation. Greenpeace’s Moas pointed to last December’s unprecedented No Deforestation announcement by Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm trader, and that new palm oil commitments are being announced nearly every month.

While global deforestation is still an ongoing crisis, this conversation showed that progress is happening. “As solutions get developed and prove successful in the marketplace, you can no longer say it’s not possible,” said Barr.