Dispatches from the Sustainable Brands Conference – Vancouver 2018

by Allison Burtka for the Erb Institute | Business for Sustainability
Jun 6, 2018 11:00 AM ET

What’s at the heart of a city?
June 4, 2018

A variety of social enterprises
At Sustainable Brands 2018 in Vancouver, Buy Social Canada led attendees on a social enterprise walking tour across the city, highlighting a long list of social enterprises and the innovative work they’re doing to better their community. Buy Social Canada brings together socially driven purchasers and social enterprise suppliers, working with community organizations, the private sector and government.

One example: The B corporation Save On Meats is a diner, butcher and community commissary kitchen that also started its own radio show, broadcasting from its storefront. Save On Meats sells tokens for food that can be given out to people in need. Since 2012, the token program has provided 88,000 meals to local residents.

The Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association links business, government, grassroots and nonprofit partners to shape a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable local economy in one area of Vancouver. The association works to “bridge the needs of local businesses with the capacity of community-focused organizations to foster a vibrant, healthy and diverse area for all.”

The Skwachays Lodge is a hotel, but it is also an aboriginal fair trade gallery and a social enterprise that houses indigenous artists in residence. Profits from the hotel and gallery fund a rental subsidy for the artists in residence, which allows the artists to develop personally and professionally. The hotel is adorned with indigenous art and has an authentic sweat lodge and smudge room for spiritual cleansing ceremonies.

Collaboration between cities and brands 
At the session The Rise of City-Brand Collaboration, Local Marketing and Local Positive Hubs, Elisabeth Laville, founder and chief entrepreneur at Utopies, delved into the concept of “local first.”

Many companies are focusing on place-making—through which retail stores become community hubs, and public spaces become reimagined as the heart of a community. Examples include West Elm’s Local Experiences, where people can learn from local artisans, and Lululemon’s “Local” concept, which invites people to gather to practice yoga and for other events. Laville also highlighted companies that are “growing local” rather than growing into other locations. Examples include:

  • Detroit’s Shinola watchmaker expanded its product offerings beyond watches, even opening a hotel.
  • Opendesk sells plans for office furniture, rather than the furniture itself—and directs consumers to local craftspeople to have the furniture built.
  • Nike’s Equality Signs campaign got women in Bogota, Colombia, engaged to change street and sport signs around the city—which depict only male figures—into female ones by adding ponytail magnets.
  • In Paris, the Adidas Boost Battle Run organized teams in different neighborhoods that squared off against each other in a running competition.

Cities, in all their variations around the world, present unique challenges, but also vast opportunities for companies working to advance sustainability.