Sustainable Brands San Diego is the annual showcase gathering of the Sustainable Brands community, and following our plenary presentation and workshop at Sustainable Brands London, Maria and I were invited to run our workshop Holonomic Thinking: Upgrading Our Systems Thinking and Leadership Skills for the New Economy.
The four day event with around 2,500 of the world’s leading sustainability practitioners ran from June 1st to June 4th at the Paradise Point Resort, a beautiful island location. The main plenary, workshop and breakout sessions were held in the main conference centre, with the innovation hub being help in a neighbouring marquee.
In this photo above you can see the amazing view we had on the veranda just outside the room where we held our workshop. This bright and uplifting location really added to the great energy from all the people attending, and you can read a report from Linda Peia from Ashoka about the workshop here: The Key to Transformational Change Leadership? Holonomic Thinking
The first day of the event was the workshops, with five morning workshops and six in the afternoon. Tuesday was the start of the conference, which had plenary presentations from the main stage, breakout sessions each consisting of many speakers from a wide range of backgrounds, industries and areas of expertise, the activation hub with many companies showcasing their products and services, and evening networking parties on the beach and around the resort.
It was fantastic for Maria and I to hear KoAann Skrzyniarz, the Founder and CEO of Sustainable Life Media and Sustainable Brands, mention Holonomics in her opening comments. As you can see in her slide, one major focus of Sustainable Brands is to help people better see the problem and to understand whole systems, and of course this is what Holonomics is all about, deepening our understanding of systems through the dynamic way of seeing and the dynamics of wholeness.
You can watch KoAnn’s presentation and see all her slides here: From What If to How Now
One of KoAnn’s comments was to tell us to tell people that Sustainable Brands was not so much an event as about being a community, and we could really feel this aspect of it all week. We met many wonderful and interesting people, and the whole event was carefully structured to allow as much networking time as possible.
If there was one challenge that I know pretty much everyone faced, it was deciding which of the workshops and breakout sessions to attend. Maria and I went to one or two together, but also went to others separately in order to maximise our experience, but even so there were many other sessions we wish we could have also attended but were not able to.
However, Sustainable Brands have published many videos, slides and write ups from the event which you can access in these links:
Having got back from San Diego on Sunday, I’ve been writing up my copious notes, downloading reports that were referenced, and putting together my action points and ideas from all our meetings. I had intended to write a single review of the whole event, but I think that it will probably be better to break up my articles into a small series, with each one focusing on single themes.
With that in mind, I just thought I would share some little nuggets now to give you a feel for the breadth and depth of this amazing week, and hope you are able to come back to read about some additional more detailed thoughts and impressions in the coming days and weeks.
Michael Dickstein, Director of Global Sustainable Development at Heineken gave us the first ever public showing of Heineken’s drink less dance more campaign which looked great. He also mentioned that their marketing director thought that their sustainability report was extremely boring, so as you can see in this photo, the report was published as a series of beer mats instead.
Last year at Sustainable Brands London we heard about a campaign to ensure that supermarkets do not waste “ugly” fruit and vegetables. Charlie Redden, Director of Supply Chain, Taylor Guitars showed us some finger boards, saying that if only very black wood is used, it results in 60% wastage. He gave a great quote saying “We have to use what the forest has to offer. We can’t just pick and choose.”
For more on this panel session see: How Continuously Proactive Supply Chain Engagement Can Be Crucial in Building Brands
John Bradford, Chief Innovations Officer of Interface discussed how to model ROI in sustainable innovations. He said that “There has to be curiosity around failure which takes you to the next step”.
On Tuesday afternoon there was a stunning sequence of plenary presentations including Rani Hong, UN Special Advisor on Sustainability and CEO of the Tronie Foundation who spoke movingly about her childhood experiences as a victim of slavery.
This was followed by Sirikul Laukaikul, brand and sustainability consultant at The Brandbeing who introduced us to her concept of Karma Marketing which is influenced by Buddhist philosophy, just as Maria and I write about the Buddhist philosophy of work in Holonomics.
And then closing this session was Amber Valletta, ex-supermodel, actress and eco-entrepreneur who shared her six sustainability values.
There were a number of quite Holonomic threads running through the whole event, including a brilliant systemic analysis of the sustainable surf industry. This panel session included Michael Stewart, co-founder of non-profit Sustainable Surf, Derek Sabori, VP of Global Sustainability at VOLCOM, Kyle Parsons, president of footwear company and B Corp Indosole, Kebvin Whilden from Firewire Surfboards, with excellent moderation from Pam Wilhelms, Wilhelms Consulting Group.
I hadn’t realised that surfboards can be so toxic, and there were many great insights shared. To read more see: How to Intervene in a System: A Practical Case Study of the Sustainable Surf Movement
Of course surfers are by their very nature immersed in, and connected to nature quite intimately. In Holonomics Maria and I really wanted to bring out the human dimension of sustainability, especially since its conception in 2011 we felt that the human angle was not receiving so much attention in the sustainability movement. It was great to see this year quite a few presenters mention people as well as planet in their slides, and a number of people did mention the concept of consciousness.
I think I will need to write an article on consciousness, especially as this blog is called Transition Consciousness. Consciousness is a tricky word, hard to pin down, and it can be mixed up with the notion of conscientiousness. But San Diego marked a watershed I feel, and it was therefore interesting to hear Sandy Skees say that “We have paid attention to the planet in the sustainability movement, and this year we are seeing a lot of conversations around humans” in this interview recorded at the event.
In discussing consciousness, in Holonomics we explore the concept of the dynamics of seeing features heavily, and for good reason, as demonstrated by David Katz in his presentation on Plastic Bank, which invites us to rethink the way we see plastic. He narrated the quite dramatic story of the life-cycle of plastic spoon, absolutely forcing us to stop seeing a plastic spoon that is given to us free.
David gave the great quote “What you think about is what you see” meaning that if plastic becomes a currency then people will start to see it as valuable. For David, we need to “see trash scavengers as micro-entrepreneurs, beautiful people”.
If you are a regular reader of Transition Consciousness you will have seen occasional philosophical articles of mine relating to the issue of being (see for example Understanding is Being) . This was our closing slide at our opening plenary talk at Sustainable Brands London:
This sense of the coming-into-being of phenomena, this dynamic and fluid becoming comes from having a process philosophy of life and living systems (see Two Quotes on the Process Theory of Life for examples).
I therefore really enjoyed the opening remarks to Wednesday’s plenary sessions of Raphael Bemporad, Co-Founder and Partner of BBMG, a design agency whose mission is to “create brands of enduring value”.
Raphael discussed five aspirations in relation to designing for humans, and these were the movements:
- From scarcity to creativity
- From flawless to honest
- From products to peers
- From fixed to fluid
- From issues to values
In ultimately shifting our mental models from consumers to humans, the key takeaway was a shift from buying to being:
Holonomics is business where people and planet matter, human values are the very foundation, and it is a shift in consciousness where we move from a mechanistic way of comprehending life as just a fixed and static set of fragmented objects, to one where we go upstream into the act of seeing, where we attain an experience of the coming-into-being of living systems, where we connect with the livingness of life.
This is why it was so great to hear Raphael’s remarks, which resonate so much with Holonomics. In order for brands to be authentic and sustainable, they have to live and breath life, and therefore we have to really go into this notion of being to really connect with the deepest essence of a brand. Maria and introduced this theme in London last year, and in seeing this theme being built on, it will be great to see the theme blossom and emerge in coming Sustainable Brands events.
Throughout the four days Maria and I received quite a lot of feedback about our workshop, not only from those who had taken part, but also from those who had heard about it but who had not been able to attend. I think there is something very deep here that really reaches people’s souls, and Maria and I are extremely grateful to the whole Sustainable Brands team for being able to really recognise the essence of Holonomics and invite us to share our philosophy in this wonderful environment of like-minded people.
We discuss holonomic thinking in this short interview we recorded with Casual Films after our workshop:
During the plenaries Maria and I were delighted to see both Brits and Brazilians on stage, including Ivo Gormley discussing the GoodGym partnership with New Balance, Eduardo da Rocha e Souza from GPA discussing their major paper recycling programme, and Brazilian artist Eduardo Srur discussing how he uses major public art installations to awaken the consciousness of people.
This has been a bit of a whirlwind personal tour through just a few of the many highlights for Maria and I. The event really is non-stop, with drinks receptions in the early evening and then BBQs and bonfires on the beach and on the lawn in the middle of the connect suites, where we celebrated 150 years of BASF, the presenting sponsor and gold corporate member of Sustainable Brands.
As I said, there is a huge amount of content on the Sustainable Brands website, not just from their events but also from their many contributing writers, of which I am one as well. There are plenty more events around the world to come, and Maria and I would just like to thank the team and sponsors and all who contributed to #SB15sd for making it such a memorable, valuable, and very amazing few days.