People usually considered to be visionaries are those who do something uniquely, and well. KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz is a visionary in the exploration of the intersection where environmental and human issues in business collide. As the founder of Sustainable Brands (SB), a sustainability conference, she has aligned a global community of leaders whose desires are to change the world through a model of delivering purpose to business. I had the opportunity to meet KoAnn when she and her team were first scouting Detroit as a candidate city to host the 2017 conference. We knew then, that bringing Sustainable Brands and some of the brightest minds in sustainability to Detroit, would be a game changer for the city. Even though, at the time, it seemed Detroit was a long shot, KoAnn made my job of convincing them to come to the city easy. She got Detroit; she saw the potential in the city. The conference was so successful in 2017 that Sustainable Brands is back this June.
Detroitisit had the chance to learn about KoAnn’s journey and what compels her to work towards making brands more sustainable.
“I felt like Business could be the hero for the future.”
DII: What was your “ah ha” moment in starting the Sustainable Brands conference?
KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz: After I left my corporate job, I started a management consulting business that was focused on that connection between purpose and profitability. I realized that was something not commonly practiced and that was news to me. Basically, my passion for recognizing that there’s a definite connection between being a purpose driven company and being financially successful is one thing. Coupling that with the frustration of the paradigm of the moment, that Business was the enemy, that’s what really bothered me. I felt like Business could be the hero for the future. That applying Business as an institution is really the best way to innovate and help drive creative solutions to environmental and social challenges.
I believed if we could align the institutional capacity and the passion that I know people have to do good at their day jobs, with their desire to do good in their personal lives, we would be much more effective in solving the challenges we face as a society, globally. That was really the genesis of starting the company, and of my desire to change the conversation.
DII: How is SB aiming to be a thought provoker?
KVS: Through our mission, we seek to inspire, engage and equip. We aim to deliver a theory of change that shares the following practices; if people are made aware of the market drivers that are creating new innovation opportunities for companies, this will help them understand how companies are funding opportunities to drive new business value. This in turn provides a response mechanism to social challenges and allows companies to equip themselves to change their actions through a peer network that is supportive of this shift. We believe such action could change the world.
“Our society is changing and deprioritizing things that we were taught to reflect ‘the good life or the American dream.'”
DII: Share with us the role you believe brands have in the marketplace and their responsibility towards sustainability.
KVS: We chose to start the company to work specifically in support of brands, because we view branded companies as sitting in the center of the economic ecosystem—they have the potential to influence the ecosystem across the board. They define the use of business resources, they set supply chain norms and behaviors, they are responsible for material selection, product design, business model design and innovation. And more importantly, they ultimately establish consumer sentiment and societal and cultural norms and aspirations.
DII: If people were to do good, they need to know how to do good. How do you see that dynamic playing into a city like Detroit?
KVS: We’re all in the mist of educational challenges. And it’s taking place on so many levels. People are generally conscious of climate change, for example. We have research to back this up. There is more that connects us than divides us as people, and the media and the political construct of the moment get in the way of our ability to see that in ourselves. Our society is changing and deprioritizing things that we were taught to reflect the “the good life or the American dream.” People are tired of being a cog in an economic system, being objectified, shifting from being prioritized as citizens during our country’s origins to becoming characterized as being consumers. Such a characterization is really nothing more than being a lone factor in an economic machine. Many people are done with that notion and realize that money doesn’t buy happiness—they’re in search of the next thing. Yet, they are also challenged by habits and expectations that represent responsibility and adulthood.
We all have to get re-educated. And, I think, businesses often times have a lot more insight into the mechanics of the challenges we are facing, what causes them and what we can do to help change such actions. And so, the more use we can make of the degrees to which we can tap the knowledge that exists of the companies that are a part of our community and help educate both civic institutions like cities and the people in it, the better. The more we can get on the same page and create a good world we all want to live in.
DII: One of SB’s missions is to help instill Balanced Simplicity. Tell us what that represents?
KVS: It’s a reflection of what our research provided us when we heard back from consumers as they voiced their desires to us. People are tired of more stuff for the sake of more stuff—they are searching for a simpler, more balanced, life.
DII: What’s the ultimate goal for SB as you aim for success?
KVS: The goal is two-fold. One, is to call out brands that are in the constant pursuit to sell more things—this process needs to come to a dead end. All brands need to think about how to deliver value to customers in such a way that doesn’t require using more natural resources to make more things that eventually get purchased to get thrown in a closet or a garbage dump.
DII: What would you, as an individual, prescribe to others as the next steps to living a Good Life?
KVS: I believe in a few simple but profound missions. One is to practice presence. With all the noise coming at us all the time, we have a hard time being present and conscious about how we’re feeling about the world around us, what makes us feel whole, centered, grounded, and happy and what make feel stressed and unhappy.
The next, is to recognize that as an individual you have power. The notion of voting with your dollars is a really powerful enabler. A new initiative we’re working on now is called “Brands for Good,” which will be a coalition of brands engaging with consumers to help look at some of the key behavioral changes that we can collectively try to put into practice that can help overcome climate change and overcome the scarcity and abuse of natural resources that deliver inequalities in our societies.
It turns out there are some fairly simple and powerful actions we can take like avoiding food waste and eating more plants. We need to learn to create new habits.
And, ultimately, as a consumer, start asking questions. Start asking where your products are made. People don’t really understand the true cost of “cheap.” As consumers we’re going to have to become more aware of this. There’s a lot of pleasure of buying quality and being discerning and thoughtful about what we chose, that doesn’t necessarily lead to waste.
Tickets are still available for this years Sustainable Brands Conference. Use the code detroitisit at registration to receive a 20% discount.