Jeremy Osborn and Hope Freedman
Published 1 month ago.
About a 10 minute read.
Insights shared throughout the week at SB’23 San Diego highlighted the organizational shifts occurring — and those still needed — to bring a resilient future to life.
L-R: Lauren Williams, Shannon O'Shea, Jane Ewing and Erin Smith
On Tuesday afternoon, the third annual Women’s Leadership
took place in a packed ballroom with an energized crowd. Moderated by Lauren N.
Editor, Race and Equity at The Guardian US, women leading sustainability
efforts in different sectors explored how today’s sustainability professionals
and brands can and are empowering more women and girls to become the
trailblazers that will lead us to a more sustainable tomorrow.
The private sector plays a crucial role in championing a more resilient future
through its widespread support for women and
companies have already embraced this opportunity and are taking concrete steps
at the organizational level to enable the growth and success of women in
Some have devised effective ways to invest in innovative and regenerative
solutions that aid women and girls in communities bearing the brunt of climate
change and social injustices. Furthermore, others are driving social change
through brand-driven communications that challenge societal norms, inspiring
more women to harness their unique power to influence the world around them.
When asked how companies are using their scale for good, Jane
— SVP of Sustainability at Walmart — asserted that
it starts with the customer. About half of Walmart’s customers are women, who
make over 80 percent of purchase
Women are also a significant portion of Walmart’s employee base — so, they are
an important constituency for the retailer. It employs a shared-value
in that it explicitly addresses different stakeholders — consumers, suppliers
and even the planet. Ewing commented that organizations need to create
opportunities for women to advance; Walmart offers various professional-growth
opportunities through education, training and promotions. While currently only
34 percent of corporate officers are women, Ewing maintains that it demonstrates
huge progress for the company. From the supplier base, Walmart creates
opportunities for women-owned businesses through its supplier diversity group.
Through its “open
female-owned companies that manufacture in the US have been able to gain
distribution of products — such as wine and cosmetics — without the necessity of
scale. On the philanthropic side, the Walmart Foundation provides grants to
female smallholder farmers in the Global South — particularly in India — to
build business capabilities and resiliency.
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Shannon O'Shea, SVP of Sustainability at
WE Communications, shared insights from after current client
Microsoft established its Climate Innovation
(CIF) — which invests in nascent technologies such as sustainable
In Africa, the CIF helped foster biofuel as a “main market” for lower-income
communities. This is important because cooking with oil is bad for the
environment and generates indoor air pollution that leads to health issues,
especially among women and girls. O’Shea elaborated by recounting that when
Microsoft — a company with global name recognition — established its CIF, it
prompted investors and others in the sector to learn about potential participatory opportunities for creating impact. In turn, telling
these stories helps build awareness, a market and demand — bringing tremendous
sustainability efforts from the fringe into the mainstream.
Continuing with the theme of community, William asked the panel how brands can
benefit people in local communities. Erin
Strategy Executive of Business Banking & Global Commercial Banking at Bank of
America, responded that her company provides
prepared training for women and minorities in entrepreneurship to help build
their business acumen and leadership skills. To date, B of A has implemented
over 1 million hours of training — which has impacted more than 120,000
entrepreneurs across 140 countries. Smith underscored the importance of data,
because “you cannot move what you have not measured.” The bank has facilitated
the creation of over 21,000 jobs across the US with its financial investment to
different funds. Furthermore, Bank of America has made a $1.5 trillion
in partnership with clients to global sustainable finance — which is anchored on
environmental and social initiatives including carbon capture, clean
transportation, affordable housing and gender equality.
With operations in 11,000 communities around the world, Walmart is a key part of
many of those communities — it is often the largest employer in a community; and
it plays an important role in providing people access to affordable food.
Walmart community leaders support the stores, so its employees (referred to as
“associates”) are embedded as a part of the community. Local leaders have
autonomy to give grants to communities based on local needs. Also, Walmart
partners with source suppliers to ensure sustainable practices such as fair
wages. One example is sourcing Pacific Island tuna for Walmart’s private-label
brand. One goal is to keep this protein affordable, ensuring the sustainable
choice is the affordable choice. Ewing stated, “we can’t make people pay a
premium for something different” – “different” being sustainable, in this case.
She added, “we can’t be a big corporate coming in and telling people what to do”
but really need to “listen and understand the issues on the ground.”
The conversation then shifted to pragmatic considerations in the role, with the
question about how to handle external pushback and real
— legislatively or otherwise. Smith succinctly offered “don’t push; but pivot”
and followed up with an example: B of A bankers are trained to go to market with
the business case for initiatives, instead of getting caught up in the external
discourse or backlash. If a client is not receptive, Smith elaborated, then the
company’s bankers pursue conversations about other business needs based on
client priorities. She continued by indicating that shifts in the marketplace
occur when younger investors want investments to be purposeful as well as
These younger investors apply the same principle to the workforce as they have
an affinity for purposeful work and companies. Companies that align their
business models to a sustainable mission are in a better position to attract
and retain top
Ewing built on this by saying that the business case is a good starting place.
Walmart executive leaders genuinely believe in the shared-value approach and buy
into the business case, even though others in the ecosystem challenge it. She
advises that it goes back to listening — especially listening to the harshest
critics and meeting them where they are in their thinking. The COVID-19 pandemic
turned out to be a catalyst for change among naysayers in that normally
dismissed sustainability considerations — including package reduction and
innovative materials — became crucial for ongoing operations.
The discussion then turned to specific personal practices that helped
professional progression. Ewing reflected on her realization to be willing to go
on an unexpected path and that it’s okay to ask for responsibilities that are
not linear career-wise. She shared that “your career is a lattice and not a
ladder” is a learned message for her. And for young people in other functions,
Ewing advises them to be a champion of sustainability in their area.
When the conversation shifted to new trends, O’Shea recounted the fact that we
have all witnessed — coming through the pandemic — the demand coming from core
stakeholders for more action on sustainability issues; and the demand is
particularly strong from younger people. O’Shea recalled her work at UNICEF,
where SDG educational materials were created and distributed almost a decade
ago. She noted that now these young people are customers and employees who are
demanding action in the workplace and in the public dialogue, and voting with
their wallets. O’Shea sees this as a positive “norm shift.”
From a brand communications perspective, O’Shea counseled that brands need to be
honest and transparent. Transparency helps foster trust, particularly when
brands communicate difficulties along the journey. She maintained that brands
can’t just be about pledges and commitments, but need to regularly
how these commitments are being operationalized and progress made against them.
Sustainability needs to be integrated into what everyone is thinking about,
regardless of their position.
Smith added that everyone has a role in the transition to a more socially
conscious society. For her, sustainability is “the intersectionality of people,
planet and prosperity,” and companies need to find their own intersectionality.
Lastly, Smith underscored that it is critical to embed sustainability throughout
the organization as part of business as usual.
Closing out the discussion, Ewing purported the importance of having leaders
truly engaged and accountable. One way is to have leaders listen to groups of
younger employees and customers to understand what sustainability really means
to these constituencies. Additionally, setting goals and measurements similar to
financial goals is key to embedding the goals into the
She underscored that collaboration and thinking about all players across the
value chain can help us move further faster.
After all, the urgency is now for the community of current and emerging
sustainability practitioners of all genders to build positive, cross-functional
and cross-sector relationships to find much-needed solutions to persistent
environmental and social issues.
In this fast-paced session, John
Fullerton — founder of the
Capital Institute — and
nRhythm founder Tre’
Cates explained the importance
of organizational health in creating the conditions for a society transition
they call the "Great Migration" — a term they use to describe the shift from
the current economic paradigm, which is based on extraction and exploitation, to
a regenerative paradigm that is based on co-creation and collaboration.
Fullerton and Cates explained that our current economic model is breaking down
due to its unsustainability — as evidenced by the decline of the Living Planet
Index, the increasing wealth
and high levels of employee
They argue that the only way to create a more sustainable future is to shift to
a regenerative paradigm — one that is based on the principles of life. Living
systems are characterized by their ability to self-define, set boundaries,
regenerate, adapt and create emergent outcomes. They believe that organizations
need to be healthy in order to make this shift. A healthy organization is one
that is aligned with the principles of life — one that is purpose-driven,
collaborative and adaptive.
Fullerton and Cates offered a number of suggestions for how organizations can
create the conditions for the Great Migration, including:
Shifting from a product-centric to a process-centric view of
Redesigning organizations based on the principles of life — creating
organizations that are purpose-driven, collaborative and adaptive.
Empowering employees to participate in regenerative processes — giving
employees the freedom and the resources they need to be creative and to
contribute to the organization's regenerative goals.
The two concluded by stating that the Great Migration is not just a shift in
economic thinking — it is also a shift in consciousness. It is a shift from a
mindset of separation to a mindset of connection — from a mindset of
exploitation to a mindset of co-creation.
The Great Migration is a call to action, they concluded. It is a call for us to
create a more sustainable future for ourselves and for generations to come.
Published Oct 25, 2023 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Jeremy Osborn is a NYC-based entrepreneur and and senior consultant with a background in marketing and communications, tech, strategy, governance, and sustainability. He holds an MA in Resources, Environment, and Sustainability from the University of British Columbia and has worked for leading brands in a wide range of industries and sectors — including food and ag, consumer goods, built environment, industrial manufacturing, energy, finance, transportation, and more.
Hope Freedman is a passionate Purpose practitioner who guides brands to discover, strengthen and activate their social missions to increase consumer loyalty, grow revenue, deepen employee engagement, and positively impact communities. She brings her extensive background in CPG marketing, advertising, and communications – on both client and agency sides – to enhance brand differentiation and consumer engagement from strategy to execution.
Her work ranges from optimization of current CSR programs, resources, and partners to thought leadership initiatives for clients. Hope focused on developing differentiated brand social initiatives through a proven, insight-driven methodology for clients including PepsiCo, Unilever, Edgewell and others as a strategist in Edelman’s global Business + Social Purpose practice (read more ...).