Team of volunteers with empty bottles and plastic bags in park.

It’s Not Impossible to Live a Good Life With a Clear Conscience

Living the good life used to mean enjoying comfort and luxury without financial problems or worries about trashing our planet. Not anymore.

According to a recent Harris/Ketchum study commissioned by Sustainable Brands, a global community of brand innovators, the meaning of a good life has changed. Rather than seeking money, status, and personal achievements, people today are seeking “balance and simplicity, along with closer connections to family, community, and the environment as foundations of a life well lived.”

Depending on sources, research says that somewhere between 65 and 95 percent of people today want to live a more sustainable life, and to purchase products that support a more sustainable future. This has tremendous impact on companies that wish to remain competitive in the new landscape.

So how do brands evolve to meet the needs and aspiration of consumers who value simplicity, transparency, authenticity, and sustainability above personal possessions or keeping up with the Joneses?

Walking the Talk

Sustainable brands are clear about their purpose and vision. They create road maps for continuously developing more sustainable business practices. And they excel in thought leadership, innovation, and best practices to shape a culture where sustainable living is the foundation for building the good life of tomorrow.

Here are some cool examples.

Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giant, is stepping up its circular economy initiatives by manufacturing bottles from plastic collected from beaches and oceans. The company has also pledged to recycle and reclaim 5 billion liters of water annually from its manufacturing processes and is even tackling a problem no one else seems to know how to solve: The company has invented a technology that can regain valuable material like plastic cellulose from soiled disposable diapers.

In Haiti, as an unintended consequence of relief efforts after the devastating 2010 earthquake, the island was covered with mountains of plastic bottles. Empty water bottles and the packaging of supplies shipped in to help Haitians ended up in canals, on beaches, and on the streets. The country’s trash collection system collapsed. Now, those bottles are finding a second life as printer cartridges. Through a radical recycling project, HP, a company that sees circularity as a life-cycle approach, is working with various partners to generate new jobs, offer health and safety training, and provide education for hundreds of children who once spent their days collecting trash to help support their families.

Delivering the Good Life

This month, more than 2,500 representatives from the Sustainable Brands community are gathering in Detroit to share their own efforts and learn from others how to do good and feel good while delivering products and services that meet the needs and visions of customers and consumers.

The four-day conference attracts thought leaders, innovators, sustainability practitioners, and brand strategists from around the globe. The main feature is the Innovation Expo. Attendees can sign up for workshops, innovation labs, and programming activities centered around making the world a better place.

The expo is divided into Good Life Pavilions aligned to different market sectors such as chemistry, energy, and finance, as well as topics including circularity and resource management. There is even a section for storytellers like National Geographic that are adept at inspiring behavioral change.

As a Good Life Lounge Sponsor for Circular Economy, SAP is hosting a number of interactive dialogues around strategic topics. One topic close to the heart of SAP leaders at the conference is the issue of ocean plastic.

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Leading Where It Counts

Last year, Stephen Jamieson, head of SAP Leonardo in the UK and Ireland, helped create the “Plastics Cloud” as a platform to tackle the issue of single-use plastic. The initiative compiles information and uses machine learning to identify materials and forecast trends in plastics purchasing and recycling, enabling services to meet demand. It also shares data with consumers to help them understand their own plastics impact.

At the same time, Padmini Ranganathan, global vice president of Products and Innovation at SAP, onboarded Plastics for Change onto Ariba Network helping to integrate the informal waste-picker economy into more formalized supply and demand systems for secondary materials.

Jamieson’s initiative and Ranganathan’s work with plastics pickers were two of the key drivers behind SAP’s sponsorship of the Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit led by James Sullivan, head of Sustainable Innovation at SAP, and Alex van der Ploeg, head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP.

As Mohammed Ali said, “impossible is temporary.” That sentiment was echoed again and again during the ocean summit by the 170 producers, scientists, researchers, and innovators participating in the event. While ocean plastic pollution is an enormous issue, Sullivan believes that if governments, non-governmental organization (NGOs), consumers, and industry leaders team up, it can be solved in 10 years. Most of the plastic enters the ocean through five rivers in Asia. Experts believe that by reducing plastic materials in rivers by just 20 percent over the next seven years, oceans would revert to plastic levels of the 1990s.

The technology to fix this exists today. What is lacking is the investment needed to develop this infrastructure where it is needed the most, compounded by a failure in the demand and supply of recycled materials.

Companies that are sustainable brands play a huge role in the solution. They are transforming their businesses with circular models that enable consumers and producers to refuse, reduce, reuse, re-purpose, and recycle. Together they are creating a sustainable foundation for the good life of the future.