– Words by Lauren Kramer Photograohy by Lia Crowe
Many companies talk the talk when it comes to “giving back,” “working sustainably” and improving the environment around them. While these catch phrases are ubiquitous and well intentioned, they often begin and end with rhetoric, creating little to no change. Every now and then, though, there are notable exceptions, and Brands for Better Foundation is the perfect example.
It started in 2018, when Karla Peckett, VP at footwear brand SOLE and recycling initiative ReCORK, was attending an outdoor retailer expo in Denver, Colorado. In an effort to draw attention to her company’s booth at the expo, the now 39-year-old executive for SOLE/ReCORK invited other brands that were practicing sustainable and ethical business to share five-to-10-minute talks on their efforts. The idea worked and SOLE’s booth was packed at the expo. Karla returned to Vancouver determined to expand the concept at home.
Hoping to bring Vancouver-based brands together in a similar fashion and amplify their existing efforts towards social and environmental issues, Karla got to work. She’d recently started a client-agency relationship with Scot Sustad, 40, co-founder of the Vancouver digital marketing firm Digital Hot Sauce, and the two shared a similar ethos in their goals to create impact in the environment around them.
“I asked Scot, ‘what if we tried to get local brands united through a shared passion for impact, and created a space where they could work together to do some community give-back work?’ The thinking was, what one brand could do to create impact is nothing compared to what many can do together.”
Scot was immediately on board and suggested they initiate a design thinking competition that created solutions for a societal problem that needed to be addressed, and then implement the solution.
Knowing they could never do it alone, Karla and Scot began reaching out to their connections. They were able to hustle 35 decision-makers into a lunch meeting where they pitched their idea to gauge interest. “During that lunch, the idea was validated and we realized people were willing to contribute their time and resources,” Scot said. “We were excited to learn there was wind in the sails!”
At that moment, the Brand Battle for Good concept was formalized, and Brands for Better Foundation was born. The organization was created as a foundation with the goal of bringing measurable positive impact to local communities by harnessing the united power of different brands and the talented folk behind them. The volunteer-driven not-for-profit aims to turn brand teams into change-makers, multiplying the effects of their efforts in their local communities.
Brands for Better’s first capstone event, the Brand Battle for Good, kicked off virtually in April/May 2021. The theme of the event was “Moving Vancouver Towards Zero Waste,” and the two-part virtual event included an educational pre-conference, followed by a competition one week later where more than 250 participants across 19 teams rivalled each other for the best idea on how to promote a zero waste ethos.
Karla and Scot were excited about the level of participation. Among the participants in attendance were brands Arc’teryx, LUSH, Hootsuite, Unbounce, Vancity, Earth’s Own, Happy Planet and Swany Gloves, alongside SOLE, ReCORK, Digital Hot Sauce and many others.
The winning idea came from the “singles” table, a group of freelancers and other companies who pitched EcoMeter, an initiative aimed at publicizing those restaurants that are finding ways to lower their impact on the planet, while also enabling restaurants to connect with partners who offer sustainable solutions.
With help from the winning team participants, Brands for Better volunteers and SOLE’s web development team, EcoMeter officially launched in Vancouver in May 2022 as a grading system of a restaurant’s sustainability practices, focusing on food waste, takeout packaging, supply chain and community initiatives.
“It’s an educational resource for consumers who want to support restaurants acting sustainably, but it also incentivizes restaurants to increase their efforts in the eco-space,” Karla said. To date, over 500 restaurants are listed on the EcoMeter site.
Karla, Scot and the Brands for Better volunteers are presently preparing for the second Brand Battle for Good. The hybrid event will kick off with a virtual conference on September 28, featuring 40 educational seminars from subject matter experts, and an in-person strategy hack-a-thon on October 5. They hope the teams will emerge with compelling, creative, practical and implementable solutions to combat social isolation and loneliness in Vancouver.
“Vancouver residents have grappled with a growing sense of social isolation for many years, naming it an issue of concern over poverty and the housing crisis. This has really been exacerbated by the forced isolation of the pandemic,” Karla said.
Some 16 of the hoped-for 25 teams have registered at the time of writing. Each team pays a fee to attend, which goes towards the estimated $100,000 in hard costs required to carry out the event. The winning concept will receive a $15,000 digital media package from Digital Media Title Partner, DailyHive. Last year’s winning team also received a $40,000 donation from the advertising agency PS DDB, and Scot said the foundation is looking for another ad agency to support this year, as well as sponsors, in-kind media partners and web development companies to contribute to the prize package and event costs. “With the help of this in-kind work, the prize becomes really valuable and gets the robust legs it needs to survive,” he said. “We’re still fine-tuning this concept to figure out the best recipe for success, but it’s not about one winner—it’s about activating brands on an impact level so we can motivate people to step in and create change. When that happens cumulatively, the impact is quite remarkable.”
“The success of EcoMeter was a true validation of the Brands for Better concept,” Scot added. “Now we’re starting to think about how we can fine-tune this event in a sustainable way so that we can activate Brands for Better chapters in other communities outside of Vancouver. If mirroring Brand Battle for Good events started popping up in other major cities throughout the world, imagine the amazing reach it could have.”
Learn more about Brands for Better at brandsforbetter.ca.