Cape Town is hosting Africa’s first Sustainable Brands Conference, SB16 Cape Town, at the Century City Conference Centre from May 14-17 2016. Programme director, Deon Robbertze, gives insight on how brands and companies can literally change the world.
SB16 Cape Town will showcase the best sustainability innovation coming out of South Africa and around the world. It aims to empower brands with the knowledge and information they need to innovate for positive sustainable impact now.
“The programme for this first event on the African continent has been carefully curated to showcase and inspire how sustainability-led innovation is the core focus of brands that are leading a new economy based on transparency, innovation and purpose,” said Deon Robbertze, programme director of Sustainable Brands Cape Town, and director at the Change Agent Collective.
It features a line-up of over 80 speakers who will lead discussions and interactive workshops on how to innovate brands for sustainability, now. Local and international brands participating include Woolworths, Pick n Pay and Procter and Gamble, among many others.
The difference between the ‘green-washing’ media hype and authentic, transparent sustainability, according to Robbertze, are the companies who are walking their talk and not making bold claims of what they plan to do, but are rather tackling the process step by step and implementing effective initiatives for change.
Robbertze uses the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal as an example of the risk around transparency in sustainability. “Without transparency, companies run the risk of being blitzed by consumers on social media,” he said.
Robbertze believes that the African continent is leading the way in many areas of innovation and sustainability.
“Sustainability, innovation and regeneration is in our DNA in Africa. Historically it’s been a hard place to live, due to colonialism and apartheid, but it’s always been innovative. People make shoes out of car tyres. They re-use and repurpose and re-imagine whatever they have to create more. They’re harvesting seaweed off the coast of Ghana to produce biofuels and there’s a lot of innovation happening around Africa that is transferable and scalable to a global level. Those are the stories we need to be telling,” he said.
The conference has been running globally for 10 years and takes place in 10 cities on six continents. It addresses problems the world faces on a global scale around climate change and the interlinked problems such as water scarcity, food security, job creation and fossil fuels. It brings together brand owners, big corporates, innovators, designers and communications professionals to network, share stories and information to help solve those problems.
There’s been a major shift in South Africa over the last three or four years, both among consumers and with some of South Africa’s leading brands according to Robbertze. Companies like Woolworths, Procter and Gamble and SABMiller are taking impactful action on issues around water scarcity, job creation, climate change and food security.
Corporate leadership is an essential driver of sustainability and is a topic to be addressed at the conference. Sustainability needs to be implemented top down and communicated at every level throughout the company, with education and communication starting internally with employees and then out to suppliers and consumers.
“It takes someone at the top to make the decision to effect change throughout the organisation. An empowered CEO can then empower employees to participate in sustainability initiatives,” said Robbertze.
“Initially companies incorrectly assumed that sustainability measures would cost them money. But what it’s really about is saving money. It’s about reducing and recycling resources and that naturally leads to job creation,” he said.
Not about ticking boxes
“Sustainability is not about ticking the boxes. It’s a journey” said Robbertze. Woolworths Good Business Journey is an example of the ongoing process of refining and improving what works and what doesn’t. SABMiller is building their brands around their Prosper initiative which focuses on the responsible use of scarce natural resources.
He believes that the onus is on brands to brief their agencies to start including sustainability as part of their story. “Communications agencies need to be getting the positive stories out into the media; 95% of articles in the media are doom and gloom, covering politics and war. But there’s very little positive media around the issues of climate change. The media constantly talks about drought, but not about climate change that is causing it, or about solutions to the problems,” said Robbertze.
“Advertising agencies are missing the point and there are very few PR agencies who get it. Brands and consumers are the ones driving change. Consumers are starting to demand products that are ethical. There is a worldwide growth trend for organic products and this is also being seen in South Africa. However, agencies are still repeating the old ways of advertising – focusing on product features, instead of telling emotive stories of heritage, upliftment and sustainability,” he said.
Sustainabilty and marketing should speak the same language
Within many businesses, sustainability is a small department that works independently and sits miles away from the marketing department. Robbertze points out that Woolworths is the first company to bring their sustainability and marketing departments onto the same floor, talking to each other and speaking the same language, which is critical to the process.
“Collaboration is essential and it’s not about one company owning the space,” he said. Robbertze referenced the collaboration of major retailers Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths around supporting farmers during the recent drought and working together to provide solutions around waste and energy.
“If we don’t change our habits as businesses, brands and consumers, we are creating more disaster for ourselves,” said Robbertze. He believes that the Sustainable Brands conferences held around the world are bringing a vast network of people together, who are equipped to drive change through sharing ideas and collaborating on action and implementation.
The conference aims to equip delegates with information around strategy, communication and presents case studies to enable them to take immediate action on sustainability challenges, both in their business and in their individual capacity.
“By the time people leave the conference, they will see the world through new eyes,” he said. “They’ll stop seeing the gloom and they’ll see the opportunities to create and provide solutions to the problems.”
How Now: A Sustainable Brands inspired publication, is available to read online here.
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