Interview with Koann Vikoren Skrzniarz of Sustainable Life Media
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David Hernandez from the Green Chamber of Commerce recently interviewed Koann Vikoren Skrzniarz; the founder and CEO of Sustainable Life Media to learn more about Sustainable Life Media’s role in the sustainability movement. Sustainable Life Media is the leading producer of sustainable business conferences and educational events including the upcoming Sustainable Brands Conference June 7-10 [...]
David Hernandez from the Green Chamber of Commerce recently interviewed Koann Vikoren Skrzniarz; the founder and CEO of Sustainable Life Media to learn more about Sustainable Life Media’s role in the sustainability movement. Sustainable Life Media is the leading producer of sustainable business conferences and educational events including the upcoming Sustainable Brands Conference June 7-10 in Monterey, CA.
KS: If I had to pick one moment it was listening to Bill McDonough speak in 2002, it was probably a trigger for a lot of people but a lot of roads lead to that point for me. It was a culmination of many years of working in the natural resources market, saw milling and mining. Recognizing what was going on in terms of resource use and the impact of business on the natural environment on one hand and spending some years in the emerging technology markets. Specifically looking at globalization in the 90’s and better understanding its impact on society in general and becoming more aware of the impact of business on the future. I had done a lot of work with Peter Senge and the society for organizational learning. The focus was all about systems thinking and building a shared vision and values around a purpose driven vision. All of those threads came together around a time when I had the opportunity to hear Bill speak consulting for a company that Anita Roddick and Paul Hawking were on the board of. That was my “ah ha” moment.
KS: We are specifically engaged in the brand community both in finding the opportunity to shift business practice and culture. Innovation for sustainability requires a breakdown of the silo thinking approach. By bringing sustainability executives, brand executives and innovation researchers’ together see we can better generate a shared vision about the needs and opportunities for brands to respond.
KS: When we started the business we set out to better understand the landscape of innovation for sustainability. At the time there were pockets of innovation stressed by a strong polarization between environmental community and the business community. There wasn’t a place where people could have a dialog and discuss the challenges of being a business moving toward sustainability. In 2007 we did our first Sustainable Brands Conference where we brought GE, Wal-Mart and AVEDA to share their business cases. Initially there was a rush towards sustainability, what we see now is that a lot of those people did not fully understand the complexities of developing a legitimate sustainable brand. With that there was a little bit of a backlash and accusations of companies doing a little bit of “greenwashing”. The definition of “greenwashing” is open to discussion. Some companies are unintentionally “green washing” out of ignorance. I tend to want to believe the best in people and choose to believe what goes on is a lack of understanding.
What we saw in 2010 are the companies who are truly committed to a long term strategy. In fact, they are strengthening their commitment by putting in more resources and deepening the maturity of the conversation. We have been facilitating the conversation and been in the right place at the right time I think. Our business has benefited by that and been challenged by the economic issues. The degree to which the brand community will continue their commitment is directed by consumers. We have to continue to make the business case that in the long run the requirement for the need for companies to be sustainable is not going to go away. It is the companies who continue to innovate even in times of economic slowdown that will succeed.
KS: Without question. When I first got into this, there was this sense that there is such wide range of drivers that if one were to get pushed off the table there would be another driver to continue to keep the pressure. It was climate change for a while, that may be less of a driver at the moment due to skepticism and political fallout. Resource constraint continues to be an issue; we go back and forth with petroleum being a big issue right now. We have issues with mineral scarcity in the technology space; we have issues of toxicity that is increasingly being made public. Technology is scaling at such a rate that the information available to the world is coming faster and more furiously than ever. Social impact issues are picking up pace, there is just no way to hide anymore. There is no future for a business that doesn’t understand how to mitigate their environmental and social impact.
KS: What I am hearing around that is a little troubling to me that I would like to dispel is the idea that we are done with sustainability, that we have been there done that. It disturbs me to think that there are people inside business who think that they have already dealt with the sustainability issues by putting a recycling plan in place or starting some energy metering inside their building. I think that we are at the tip of the iceberg; to suggest that we are anywhere close to being done with it is short sighted. I would love to have people understand how the conversation is evolving in our community. We are looking to imbed sustainability into business strategy along with philanthropic activity into the brand itself. Panera Bread has done a remarkable thing by opening up restaurants under a pay as you go business model in underserved, underprivileged communities. By partnering with local NGO’s they are training at-risk youth, the under educated and community members how to work in a restaurant. The beauty of this model is it is now self sustaining philanthropy. They have taught and empowered these communities to take care of themselves. This is only one example out of several examples we are going to feature at the Conference in June. It is this type of thinking that really excites me, when you think about the scale at which this can be implemented and the lives that can be changed.
DH: Tell me about the upcoming Sustainable Brands Conference in Monterey, CA June 7-10.
KS: The conversation that we are framing is how to imbed sustainability and cause marketing into the brand. We have structured the conference by first identifying existing and new drivers of sustainability. We will be looking at best practice examples of innovation. Business models around innovation for sustainable consumption are a growing topic so we will be talking about that a lot. There are a lot of interesting cases to discuss in peer to peer businesses and access rather than ownership models. After we talk about innovation, we will focus in on new strategies of communication, engagement and behavior change. Gamification is a growing trend in understanding how game dynamics can engage more people and create behavior change. People from the Mayo Clinic will be coming in to talk about how gaming can drive positive behavior in health. The theme of the Conference this is year is “Play On”. We recognize the fatigue syndrome on both the innovator side and the consumer side. We want to encourage people to remember that play is something that needs to be refreshed. It is also something that helps to support collaboration and innovation and partnership development. Play is much more positive and powerful to engage consumers than something such as fear. We are going to have lots of examples such as the Volkswagen Fun Theory; the creative agency responsible for this campaign will be explaining how they were able to successfully launch a late to market green car using innovative marketing techniques with very low investment.
We invite you to attend the Sustainable Brand Conference. Sign up today and receive a 20% discount by using the code: NWGCCSB11 **Price goes up May 15!