How Brands Can Leverage Sustainability, Social Inclusion to Create ‘Good’ Cities

This week at Sustainable Brands’ flagship event, SB’18 Vancouver, over 2,000 attendees are sharing and exploring the many ways organizations are helping to “redesign the good life.” One aspect of the good life is cross-sector collaboration, such as brand-city-organization partnerships to build resilient communities, technologies and systems that focus on social inclusion.

In a plenary session on Monday evening, Sadhu Johnston, City Manager of Vancouver, exemplified Vancouver as a good city. While tackling challenges such as climate change, an overdose epidemic and rising homelessness rates, Johnston claims that Vancouver remains on track to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Vancouver has achieved much of its sustainability goals through a city action plan, leveraging sustainability by creating green jobs, producing less waste despite population growth, and carefully nurturing the city’s green brand value, which now exceeds $31 billion. Simultaneously, Vancouver ensures that the wealth gap does not continue to grow.

Johnston passionately defended his responsibility as a pro-green city manager: “Our job is to grow a community, to honor the community, to create a sustainable community. We are trying to figure out what the good life actually is.”

Following the plenary, a break-out session panel moderated by Pam Wilhelms, founder of Wilhelms Consulting Group, dove deep into the future of good cities. Key themes explored were stakeholder engagement and human-centered design to achieve social resilience.

The three panelists — Susan Mazrui, Director of Public Policy at AT&T; James Thurston, VP of Global Strategy and Development at G3ICT; and Mary Wroten, Associate Director of Global Sustainability, Environment, and Safety Engineering at Ford — all stressed the importance of community engagement in the decision-making process to build truly inclusive systems.

Wroten demonstrated Ford’s human-centered design mindset in helping solve community-specific problems at a global scale. In Detroit, for example, a door-to-door transportation service for people with disabilities takes citizens from their homes to medical care centers. Ford’s focus on community helps ensure inclusive transportation.

Mazrui of AT&T emphasized inclusion, not just in terms of designing infrastructure of people with disabilities, but in the actual decision-making.

“People are left out in processes. By raising issues, we hope that we’re opening doors, that we are developing cities that are inclusive,” she said. “Where I see the change, it really comes from people working together.”

To complement Mazrui and Wroten’s stances, Thurston of G3ICT — a global initiative/advocate for rights of persons with disabilities — asserts that the future of good cities depends on accessibility. When designing new systems such as transportation and assistive technologies, Thurston stressed that if we design it to be accessible up front, it’ll be more impactful and cost-effective in the long run.

These panelists realize that cities are on the front lines of engaging their citizens. Creating good cities requires diverse stakeholder groups at the decision-making table, because each city has specific problems and therefore, specific solutions. Where do brands fit into the conversation?

Brands need to recognize their power to help transform cities to ensure social resilience while maintaining and increasing brand value through green industry and community investment.

Jed Nugal



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