Sustainable Brands Conference 2016: Lessons in Sustainability, Purpose-driven campaigns and Engaging Communication Strategies

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego –the last edition to be held here before the conference moves to Detroit…


Big corporations like Nestlé, McDonald’s, or Target, as well as nimble startups and nonprofits from all over the world gathered at Paradise Point in Mission Bay to talk about sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). This is the largest gathering of global sustainability and brand professionals in the world, and it certainly was an inspiring bunch to be around for a week, 12 hours a day –this included an epic beach concert by the amazing band MarchFourth, which had executives jumping up and down well into the night.


The concept of sustainability and meaningful campaigns is important both on a personal and professional level. I came to Communiqué after years in the public sector and nonprofit world.


Becoming a project manager for a graphic design studio specialized in outreach and science communication allowed me to work with an even wider range of purpose-driven companies, individuals and organizations. Madeline created Communiqué after working at a large commercial agency, and noticing that there was a need for “design with a purpose” —graphic designers harnessing their expertise to transform the way we perceive and talk about science, biotechnology and conservancy.


The Conference focused on how to act on and communicate purpose to a wide range of audiences; reintroducing emotion and humanness into our communication strategies; aligning with lay audiences; and cultivating transparency, honesty, fairness and vulnerability at every step.


These notions really hit home, and it was easy to see how they are applied to our clients and what Communiqué’s visuals strive to achieve. The conference, which, said Sustainable Brands Founder and CEO KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, “uses the power of brands to influence societal aspirations” proved once again that our world and the way we communicate is rapidly changing.


Reaching and engaging audiences about issues that are often complex, but have the power to make a tremendous positive impact is no longer the sole prerogative of scientists and NGOs; and many sessions during the conference logically stressed the importance of partnerships with the corporate sector, and vice-versa.


Another important takeaway was that engagement initiatives greatly benefit from “simpler, more interactive and more compelling” online materials, as stressed by Mark DeVito from Gigawatt. Aria Finger, CEO of, a not-for-profit that empowers people to take action around causes they are passionate about, insisted on the importance of mobile-friendly contents, “because that’s where Millennials are”. Many speakers throughout the week talked about the opportunity to use otherwise, not corporate-led, and more “social” channels to reach new audiences.


It was also interesting to see presentations revolving around biotech and biomimicry steal the show. Founder of Biomimicry 3.8 Janine Benyus shared some pioneering biomimicry research and explained that nature has a lot to teach us about effective, purpose-driven leadership and design. We can look at nature to reverse climate change, and recoup the carbon we lost over the past 200 years, by using it as an ingredient in products and a feedstock for our soils.    Her speech received a standing ovation and completely galvanized the conference –another proof that science communication has the power to ignite change.


The goal of the conference was to inspire, and for me it did just that. Also, did you know that you could make the most delicious and sustainable energy bars out of BEER? (They are called Regrained bars, and you should definitely check them out.)


Thank you to the amazing 1to1 Movement for inviting me and making me a part of the Sustainability Team for this conference. 

You can find recaps and conference highlights here.


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