May 022008

Spent the week in Boston, where we launched Planet 2050 to the US market with Weber Shandwick’s Boston office. We had an excellent backdrop in the form of the annual Ceres Conference, which attracted an impressive 700 delegates from large and small companies, major NGOs and, critically, the investment community. As sponsors of the summit’s awards, we released some new research on Fortune 100 companies. For more on the launch of Planet 2050 in the US, click here. I admit to being surprised at how vast a gathering the Ceres event was, and there is no doubt in my mind that if there ever was a gulf between Europe and the United States in terms of the corporate sustainability agenda, it is fast narrowing. The highlight for me was a truly inspiring panel discussion between Jeffrey Swartz, CEO of Timberland, and Gary Hirshberg, the president of Stoneyfield Farm yoghurt, a sort of Innocent Drinks of North America (albeit older), now six times the size of Kraft’s dairy business. These two New Englanders, in their casual dress, spoke with such authenticity and vision, I wondered whether we would ever hear the CEO of a traditional multinational sound like this. And how funny to see Swartz in his jeans and Red Sox cap, as environmentalists wandered around the conference hall in their suits and ties. I can honestly say I have never enjoyed listening to a business leader as much as Jeff. Ceres has been monumentally successful in building a coalition of advocates from the investment and environmental campaigning worlds – proving once again that commercial profit and environmental stewardship really can be achieved in tandem. The most encouraging thing of all? That the major economic downturn in the US does not seem to be affecting the drive for more sustainable business one iota. I will return to that next week in an article I’m finishing off over the weekend.  Here’s to a sunny bank holiday.

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