Sustainable Business and Social Impact Conference: Top 5 Takeaways

Registration table at the SBSI conference

Duke’s Fuqua School of Business held its annual Sustainable Business and Social Impact conference on February 13. The largest conference of its kind in the Southeast, it brings together impact professionals from the private, public, and non-profit sectors to discuss how organizations are tackling our most complex and urgent social and environmental issues. It’s a topic that’s right up our alley.

I had the pleasure of attending the conference for the first time this year. Here are a few small things that made a big impression on me:

It’s time to move beyond the take-make-waste model

We need to be striving for a circular economy where we maximize the use of resources, urged participants in the “Circular Economy: Innovations for Consumer Goods” panel discussion. Crystal Dreisbach, founder of Don’t Waste Durham (and the subject of one of our Long Story Short pieces), is leading this movement locally with GreenToGo, Durham’s reusable, returnable takeout container service.

Circular economy panel at the SBSI conference

Consumers are demanding sustainable business practices…

During the morning keynote, participants acknowledged that sustainability isn’t just the right approach to business – it’s one that customers, particularly younger ones, want. Mary Merrill, managing partner of Purpose Matters, shared a statistic that stood out to me: 66% of consumers globally are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are dedicated to sustainability – and that trend is increasing.

…but businesses need to do even more

Matt Kopac, sustainable business and innovation manager for Burt’s Bees, is heartened by the trend toward sustainability in the business world. At the same time, he said, he’s overwhelmed by the feeling that it doesn’t sufficiently address the scale of the environmental problems the world is facing.

Kopac recognizes that consumers do play a role in encouraging companies to be more sustainable by, for example, buying eco-friendly and sustainably produced goods. But he also believes that for us to truly move toward a sustainable economy, businesses have to go above and beyond what the consumer is demanding.

SBSI conference poster

Plan and prepare, but keep an open mind

A big part of my job is asking questions and listening, whether that’s during a client meeting or an on-camera interview. It’s no surprise that I loved the advice Andrea Koppel gave during the keynote. Koppel is CEO of Time4Coffee, a podcast and website that helps young people navigate a rapidly changing global job marketplace.

Asking good questions begins with doing your research and preparing thoughtful questions, she said. That’s a given. What’s most important is listening without being tied to those prepared questions. When you listen openly, you can ask good follow-up questions. And some of the best answers come from follow up questions based on what someone has said.

SBSI conference audience

To change your life, never stop learning

Recognize that everyone you meet knows something you don’t, said Alden Zecha, founding partner at We Scale Impact, in the “Changing Business Models… and the Career Paths Within” session. This may be something small, or it may be big; it may be life-changing in that instant, or maybe not. But when you go into conversations with that frame of mind, you will be transformed.


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