Last week I was at the CBSR conference in Toronto before enjoying a relaxing weekend in Montreal.
The conference was excellent, with a huge amount packed into one day.
I had a beer with Matthew Kiernan, founder of Innovest afterwards, and we both agreed that it had been on the best either of us had been to for a while.
For a one day, lift-the-spirits style conference (rather than a process/management event, for example), it really was excellent.
Thinking about why, I think there were two reasons.
One, there were a couple of founder/chairman of major ethical brands speaking who spoke with complete freedom and are acknowledged success stories in their different areas of business. This second part is important I think.
The two in question were Ray Anderson of Interface (podcast forthcoming) and Jeffrey Hollender of Seventh Generation. Having two opening speakers who don’t worry about what they have to say, and have been successful for many years, makes a big difference.
Secondly, many of the other really interesting speakers were CEOs from companies that you might call ‘ethical brands’.
Having CEOs, rather than VP’s of public affairs, is important, and hard to do, as I know from personal experience. My colleague has just put together our big annual event with CEOs speaking, so I know how hard it is to do. Kudos to CBSR for that.
The brand CEOs, niche ethical as they are, were great to hear from at the Toronto conference.
These are probably not companies you’ve heard of, but I’d urge you to take a look at them, and how they operate.
We interviewed Mountain Equipment Co-op’s previous CEO here.
GE’s Canadian CEO, Elyse Allan, also spoke. GE’s approach is clearly very different from that of the smaller ethical brands, and rightly so. As with Siemens, for them sustainability is just simply about retooling the world in a much more efficient, and thereby greener, way.
That aside, I do often wonder what big companies can really learn from smaller ethical brands.
And as we know, it’s big companies the CSR agenda is really aimed at.
Perhaps it’s working out what inspires innovation that’s the best lesson for big companies from much smaller ones. Elyse Allan of GE mentioned at the conference to Ray Anderson that she had read his books and was inspired by his story.
That aside, it was great hearing progressive views from CEOs all day, and I taped interviews with Ray Anderson, John Ruggie, Tom Heintzman of Bullfrog Power and Adine Mees of CBSR which will all be on the website soon at this link.