The energy level was high in San Diego last week.  After 18 months of Zoom meetings and virtual happy hours, it was time to ditch the sweatpants and head to Sustainable Brands 2021 (#SB21.)  This was my 3rd time at the flagship event, and I was excited to reconnect with old friends, make some new ones, get inspired, and meet my new Grounded World teammates in-person!  And the event delivered.

One theme that I was listening for was how to make sustainability relevant to consumers in a new way.  As sustainability marketers, we should be thinking about how we can use the power of our brands to help consumers live a more sustainable lifestyle.  Sometimes that’s with product innovations (a new product that lowers your energy consumption), or the way we design packaging (encouraging re-use or recycling), or through our media and platforms (encouraging people to vote, or to take a stand).  But often it’s just raising awareness and making sustainability relevant to people who might not consider it their issue.  It is getting the conversation started.  Because we are facing an inevitable climate crisis, and we need all hands on deck—everyone from the general public to national governments to multinational companies needs to take action.  

So, I perked up during the presentation by Daryl Fairweather, Chief Economist of Redfin.  What keeps this real estate finance leader up at night?  Climate Change.  So, Redfin is using their real estate app to help home buyers and sellers understand the impact of climate change on different US regions, cities, and even specific listings.  Not only is this adding value to the home buying process—providing another piece of essential data reviewed alongside school district rankings, crime rates and community engagement—but it’s making climate change REAL to millions of people who might otherwise feel like it’s a distant threat.  Redfin is inserting climate change into an everyday conversation, raising awareness, and making it relevant to the masses—and that’s powerful.

Also on stage at SB 21 (virtually, due to travel restrictions) was Kristen Kloberdanz, CSO of Mastercard and Mathais Wikstrom, CEO of Doconomy.  Together these two organizations have created a carbon calculator and opened it up to banks around the world to use with their clients.  This tool provides a simple snapshot of monthly purchases by category, and the climate impact.  Again, the first step is raising awareness.  Do you know the carbon impact of your apparel purchases, or your food purchases?  The app also provides tips on how to lower your impact.  And while, admittedly, carbon emissions is not a key purchase driver for most categories—knowing that certain cheeses, for example, have a much higher carbon footprint than others might get you to purchase them less often.  And all those little decisions across hundreds of millions of people can really add up.

One of the most entertaining presentations of the week was from Heidi Hackemer, Executive Creative Director for Oatly.  If you aren’t familiar with Oatly, I recommend you check out their website for marketing inspiration—the brand is creative, quirky, and unafraid.  Hackemer talked about how her job was to make two incredibly boring topics—oat milk and sustainability—interesting and important.  Because, as she explained, Oatly exists to make it easy for people to eat better and live healthier lives without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.  Hackemer shared the story of their 2021 Super Bowl ad.  Oatly decided to run an :30 video that was created a few years before, featuring their CEO sitting in a field with a synthesizer, singing about oat milk: “Wow, no cow.”  I remember that ad, and thought it was terrible—most of the world did.  BUT people were talking about it long after the game was over.  And looking up Oatly.  And going to the website, where they could buy a t-shirt that said, “I totally hated that Oatly commercial.”  (The t-shirts sold out in a day.)  The company used an intentionally bad ad to get hundreds of millions of people to notice their brand and get an oat milk conversation started. According to Hackemer, it was a wild success.

Behavior change is hard, and sustainability can be boring and dry.  It takes thoughtful, creative and resilient brand leaders to figure out how to change these dynamics and make this topic interesting and motivating to consumers.  I was inspired to hear so many brands at SB21 tackling it head on.   And I felt grateful to be part of the Grounded World team that is helping to lead the way.