Hope Freedman and Sustainable Brands
Published 1 month ago.
About a 12 minute read.
At SB’23 San Diego, several discussions and events explored the potential for social impact when we rethink business as usual.
L-R (foreground): Adi Saroya and Micah Kane
Getting right to the heart of the week’s theme of Regenerating
Sustainable Brands® brought attendees together on Tuesday night for the
Connect for Maui Benefit — at which SB was honored to host Micah Kane,
President and CEO of the Hawaii
rePurpose Global co-founder Aditya
Siroya set the stage by
highlighting the continued disconnect for many — even those of us within the
sustainability space — between our goals and proclamations, and the
on-the-ground changes needed to make them a reality.
As he pointed out, it’s because of our “not choosing to invest in local
regeneration that we have the aftermath across the world of these disasters
that, at their root cause, have the implications of us choosing not to reverse
our ecological impacts. At rePurpose, we focus on a very different issue of
dealing with plastic
— but even in dealing with plastic pollution, we see this microcosm of [many]
complex, intertwined societal issues that [perpetuate these negative impacts].
So, I hope that in our time together, we can acknowledge these complexities,
recognize what they are, sit with them — but also cede the connections between
them and how we can slowly make our way through those interconnections."
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Kane then shared his heartfelt gratitude for the corporate and philanthropic
response to this summer’s catastrophic wildfires in
and implored attendees to keep Maui — and the often-overlooked root causes of
these increasingly frequent and devastating disasters, and communities most
affected by them — in mind in their work.
“It makes a lot of sense for us to be here at such a critical time because,
while I’m here to advocate for the Maui Strong Fund, I’m more interested in
being an ambassador for the change that needs to happen so that this doesn’t
happen to other communities around the world,” he said.
He recounted some of the connections he’d already made at SB’23 San Diego —
including Chris Noble, Head of Corporate
Partnerships at CARE, who helped him articulate that
what’s true for Maui and all of the other communities working to recover from
natural disasters is, “The window of attention is more important than the window
of investment.” He said that the people who’ve felt compelled to contribute to
relief efforts are the kind of people he wants to work with “to help us rethink
what tourism looks like in Hawaii. They care about the people, they care about
the place; and there’s a different experience that they should have when they
come back — we’re thinking hard about what that looks like and how they can help
us be ambassadors for what Hawaii can be.”
Kane asserted that, even in Hawaii, “we operate in a very degenerative system as
a people, as to how we can sustain our culture and our homelands. There’s a
different thinking that needs to happen in order for our culture to be
perpetuated forever — and I can tell you, it’s one that’s going to have to be
more inclusive. And I encourage you to lean into that space — across Indigenous
people, across our country.”
Kane closed by thanking the SB community for its partnership and says he is
excited to apply its innovative thinking into Hawaii’s recovery process, “so
that we can model and educate the world about the importance of this work.”
A Wednesday morning breakfast discussion felt like a natural segue, as the
Tides Foundation delved into strategies for companies
to hold fast to their social-impact efforts in challenging times. Corporate
social-impact teams the world over are facing enormous challenges, both internal
and external, that are compelling them to do more with less. Even with these
constraints, companies have a real opportunity to stand out by deepening their
impact in their local communities and for social justice.
Led by Tides’ Senior Director of Corporate & Strategic Initiatives Harriet
Gardner and Erin
Ceynar, Senior Advisor of
Corporate Social Impact, the session started off with an energizing, interactive
peer-learning exercise about strategies for staying the course in the face of
headwinds — social, political, economic or otherwise. In the report-out, one
common theme was that social-impact work is rewarding; yet one challenge is
Time: There never seems to be enough time to measure, monitor, manage and
sustain the critical social-impact work, especially within served communities.
Additionally, economic uncertainty certainly plays a role in terms of resources.
Another point that was raised about how we show up in communities is
intersectionality, and the ways we can go about building community.
Ceynar advanced the conversation by presenting some of Tides'
Connecting social-impact work to core business efforts
Engage employees and customers
Commit to the work for the long term
Invest in community-led organizations
Invest in trust-based approaches
Regarding the first strategy, Ceynar commented that organizations “need to land
the purpose piece authentically so they can move into sustainability.” This can
be seen, for example, in the ‘digital divide’ issue area — where in some cases,
organizations can help build nonprofits’
Ceynar elaborated that landing the organization’s purpose can help engage
employees and customers, particularly when it comes to consumer activation. One
attendee recounted that her business of display-advertising management for
bloggers built capabilities to switch to COVID-19 PSA messaging early during the
pandemic when an industry peer wanted to donate unused advertising space to
COVID-19 education. Now, this programmatic advertising house has expanded its
work with nonprofits and served billions of ad impressions at no cost to
The strategy of ‘committing to the work for the long term’ was challenged,
particularly in the context that ‘one-off’ or ‘moments in time’ activations
cancer awareness) are not a for-profit’s central business. Tareya
Palmer, Senior Advisor
at Tides, welcomed this perspective and added that Tides is concerned that
for-profit companies that are not willing to invest over the long term may cause
more harm than good for marginalized communities. She continued that, although
corporate culture can be fast-paced, “the work takes time in building
relationships and trust. Rushing is not the answer. Sometimes [doing]
‘something’ is the wrong thing.”
Lively conversation also ensued about now to meet business goals while helping
to deliver on an organization’s mission. It was noted that sometimes a
short-term ‘win’ is needed to get a longer commitment. Ceynar said practitioners
on the cause side should come with strategy and business thinking to help
business goals, while also imparting unique resources, tools and knowledge:
“It’s about understanding that the goal is to help advance the longer-term
strategies of the company while also advancing the longer-term goals of the
Gardner built on this by advising to take companies on a journey to push the
work deeper — things that speak to the commercial side and then help drive the
most impact with available resources. She acknowledged that there is no way to
do it perfectly; but we should do everything within the existing system to drive
change. Another attendee brought up the notion to align with your ‘superpower’
in a way that is authentic to the company. Lyft was
highlighted as an example: The ride-share service employs its core
and competency of providing mobility in all of its social-impact work, even when
the company activates during certain “moments.”
In closing, Managing Advisor Diana
Hunter recapped some reflections as
These challenging times can
create opportunities (as it did with the COVID-19 PSA messages and
unexpected expansion with nonprofits as a result of donated ad space).
The importance of deep listening to employees, consumers, community. Start
with their needs and priorities.
Finding and aligning purpose with impact and business goals, bringing to
bear capabilities that makes an impact over both the short- and long-term.
Social-impact work takes time and it is hard to measure — whether finding
partners, creating internal buy-in or aligning externally.
Getting comfortable with being imperfect and uncomfortable. It is important
to stay engaged and to continue the conversation.
A rendering of the now-completed Emma Jean Hull Flats in Benton Harbor, Michigan | Image credit: Whirlpool
In this well-attended Wednesday afternoon breakout session, corporate
sustainability leaders in the home appliance, confectionary and financial
services industries shared insights into how their respective local-impact
initiatives became an integral, and even a transformative, force within
communities they serve.
Moderator Ethan Soloviev, Chief
Innovation Officer at HowGood, opened the discussion
with the question: “What does ‘social cohesion’ mean to you?”
Head of Social Impact & Community Investment at The Hershey
Company, shared that she
views ‘social cohesion’ as encompassing a sense of connection and ties to how we
approach all engagement. Madge
Thomas, President of American
Express Foundation and Head of Corporate Sustainability at American
Express, added that ‘social cohesion’ is
defining what society is to us and broadly includes where companies work and
operate while underpinning corporate sustainability and CSR platforms.
When figuring out where to focus on to make the most impact, it is important to
identify and tailor efforts to what resonates with certain stakeholders. At
American Express, social-impact programs need to thoughtfully underpin corporate
values and mirror “ESG” on the business side to the Foundation side, Thomas
Continuing American Express’ longstanding support of small businesses, the
company launched “Backing
in early 2021 to help economically vulnerable US small-business owners —
including underserved populations of entrepreneurs — recover from the pandemic
and foster economic recovery. “Backing Small” offers wraparound resources and
tools of grants, mentoring support and technical assistance for small
businesses. Funds are being used to address critical needs and drive business
expansion — including capital improvements, physical and technological upgrades.
American Express works closely with nonprofits “to define what would be
meaningful and not tokenistic,” Thomas said. The company created an internal
pipeline of diverse Small Business offices, now scaled to six countries with
increased programs. Tying back to sustainability, this work is essential —
particularly the infrastructure improvement — to support resilience before the
occurrence of natural disasters among other devastating events. As Thomas
pointed out, “If small businesses survive, then the surrounding community
“We realized that we made a commitment to stay in the home community of our
global headquarters,” said Stefanie
Manager of Community Relations & Foundation Governance at Whirlpool
Corporation. With no strategy and lack of
impact measurement, “we had to get honest with ourselves. We decided to listen
differently and better.”
A case in point is Whirlpool’s recent development of Emma Jean Hull
— an 80-apartment, waterfront complex in Benton Harbor, Michigan — where the
company was founded and is headquartered. Harvey-Vandenberg and colleagues
listened to local government officials, historical and influential leaders, and
people with firsthand insight into what Whirlpool could do differently to help
its fellow residents and learned that mixed-income housing was greatly needed to
help revitalize the city’s downtown area. Housing was also a barrier to easier
transition for Whirlpool’s new hires. Some apartment units are allocated for
"Hometown Heroes" — public-service workers including first responders and
teachers. An important issue for local stakeholders was that the new apartment
complex should be named for former Benton Harbor Mayor Emma Jean Hull, whose
legacy is associated with the revitalization of the city. Harvey-Vanderberg
noted this housing initiative was instrumental in shifting Whirlpool’s local
engagement from transactional to transformational — by listening with hearts,
and not just ears, to diversity of thought.
Briddell said at Hershey, corporate philanthropy has been narrowed in to focus
on the company’s HQ community. She admitted that it has been a slow and steady
process — going from investing in Hershey’s HQ hometown and extending to other
communities — which continues to develop as the strategy evolves.
Since 2019, Hershey’s Heartwarming
has awarded microgrants to teens to create positive change in their schools and
communities by sparking connection, boosting empathy and advancing inclusion.
Mostly the microgrants are used for service projects in teens’ communities.
Briddell revealed the data-driven insight that Hershey’s uncovered: When kids
feel connected to one another and their communities, they are more likely to
experience positive mental-health
A sense of connectedness is derived from positive peer and adult relationships
and engagement within their communities. This targeted youth program aligns with
Hershey’s ESG goals and uses the power of the brand to build a sense of
community where one didn’t exist.
The panelists agreed that metrics are important because they demonstrate how to
build social cohesion — yet they also recognized that measurement is a blend of
science, art and emotion. Thomas said American Express and its nonprofit
partners worked closely to demonstrate growth as a desired outcome. Numbers
showed that the American Express grants contributed to small business’ growth;
however, the qualitative side of the story and emotional resonance is powerful,
Thomas said. Briddell noted that it is difficult to persuade teenagers to
provide numbers associated with their respective service project microgrants,
besides social media and other baseline metrics; however, the ripple effects —
including who the teens engage with — are also important markers: “Metrics are
meaningful; though it is also about building trust over tim” she said. Echoing
this sentiment, Harvey-Vandenberg indicated that sometimes KPIs are ‘soft,’ with
the belief that “Heart work is heart work. We can’t see it, but people can
By nurturing trust, amplifying local voices and creating partnerships that
uplift communities, brands can become catalysts for positive change from the
perspectives of community design, brand purpose and social science.
Published Oct 24, 2023 12pm EDT / 9am PDT / 5pm BST / 6pm CEST
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 ...).