Sustainable Brands (SB16) called out “now is the time for business leaders to learn how to successfully innovate their brands to ensure a sustainable future.” Local and international presenters and over 200 delegates came from food, retail, building products, transport and infrastructure, insurance, architecture and construction, banks, energy, technology, medicine, government agencies, corporates and a smattering of smaller businesses.

The global event, held in Australia for the first time, reaches out to “forward thinking business and brand strategists, marketing innovators and sustainability professionals” who incorporate, inform and leverage sustainability into their brands.

How do they do it? With varying degrees of success but there is a wide agreement that interest is escalating in this all-encompassing world of sharing, collaborating and focusing on sustainable outcomes.

“The role of business in delivering solutions to society’s current set of significant and complex sustainability challenges has never before attracted so much attention,” said keynote speaker Dr Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future. This independent non-profit works globally with business, government and other organisations on projects such as Net Positive for businesses that, as the publicity says, work towards putting back into society or the environment more than they take out.

“It’s critical to transform the key systems we rely on and to do that everyone in the value chain must be involved, from the producers and manufacturers right through to the end-user, all working together towards a common aim.”


Likewise, to best secure a sustainability commitment within a company you need to involve the workforce at all levels. As always, getting the ear of the CEO is most beneficial, but as Tom Szaky indicated, the founder and Chief Executive of TerraCycle, a company which repurposes “hard-to-recycle post-consumer waste” into further sustainable consumer and industrial products, that is not enough these days. “You also need shop level involvement”.

Different types of thinking apply to attracting and retaining workers, especially millennials. “Brands need to consider ‘purpose’ as a driver, for people for whom financial rewards are no longer top of the motivation tree,” says Ben Peacock, founder and partner at Republic of Everyone. “Millennials – and indeed Gen Y – will go out of their way to work for a company who shows a genuine commitment to CSR (corporate social responsibility), environment and sustainability. … Current workers are more engaged and stay longer in a company that shows real purpose and commitment to reducing its (social) impact on the world.”

Another increasing commitment is to the circular economy, of which Mud Jeans is a vibrant example. CEO Bert van Son says it was “the first and only denim brand that can genuinely call itself circular because of its lease-a-jeans back scheme for a monthly fee. After use the customers can send their used jeans back and switch them for a new model. In the meantime, some 5,000 users have returned their jeans. We upcycled some 2,000 and put them back on offer as vintage jeans and the first 3,000 denims are going to be recycled back to raw denim so we can make new pairs of jeans.”


The growth and acceptance of sustainable brands also requires transparent procedures and transactions and more trustworthy, measurable information. Let people know about achievements such as 20 per cent of home rooftops in Perth now covered in solar arrays, supplying more electricity than the grid, making them Perth’s biggest power station, says Curtin University sustainability professor Peter Newman.

Global GreenTag’s certified products have to pass exacting standards for health, “ecoperformance”, ethics and safety, says founder, sustainability stalwart, David Baggs. He had hoped there would have been more brand managers and developers at SB16.

“Life Cycle Assessment reporting via Environmental Product Declarations are now required in specific sectors, where reporting now also needs different thinking to conventional Life Cycle Impact Analysis because circular economy characteristics necessitate Life Cycle Benefit Analysis.

“These are also needed by sustainability managers to address LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) markets and link product sustainability data to professional users’ procurement, corporate performance and company contributions to circular economy reporting.”

While Australian business is aware of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Dr Leeora Black, Managing Director of the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, sounded a note of caution. The latest annual review of the state of CSR in Australia and New Zealand showed that there is “a significant gap between espoused priorities and concrete plans (and there were hints of) the continuing struggle of CSR workers to influence organisational decisions add ensure appropriate budgets for their work.”

We are on the way but still nowhere near the destination.

SB16 Sydney was organised by MCI Australia and supported by host partners Banksia Foundation and Sustainable Business Australia. The next SB16 is in Bangkok, October 11-13.

Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma; [email protected]