From Seaside Resort to Downtown Detroit, Sustainable Brands Switches Gears

(Murals for Detroit’s Eastern Market against the backdrop of a rejuvenated downtown. Sustainable Brands moved its U.S. conference to Detroit from San Diego)
In June of 2016, Sustainable Brands founder KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz promised attendees at the 2017 edition of her annual flagship U.S. conference to focus on the new look at industrialization and its intersection with social and environmental issues.

Her ability to predict where the world’s business news outlets would be focused on the opening day of her event 11 months later was uncanny.

The keynote speaker for tonight’s opening session at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit is Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford who, according to multiple press accounts, has just replaced CEO Mark Fields with the head of the Ford subsidiary that works on autonomous vehicles, Jim Hackett.

Moving the Sustainable Brands conference to the heart of the U.S. Rust Belt was already a jarring event for the 2,000 'sustainarati' who use the event to network, hear inspiring presentations and meet with suppliers in the rapidly growing environmental, social and governance sectors.

“Our community is focused on the global truth that, at this moment in history, it is time for all businesses to get back to the place where they have embedded a meaningful purpose beyond profit into the core of their activities,” wrote Vikoren Skrzyniarz as she announced the event would move from San Diego’s Paradise Point resort to Michigan. “But what comes next? It’s time for us to leave ‘Paradise’ as it is classically envisioned, with the sun and sand and palm trees, and redefine a new global societal aspiration that goes beyond the ‘Dream’ of the Industrial Age. What better place than to begin that imagineering than in the heartland of America where the industrial age took hold and innovation unfolded?”

The decision to host Sustainable Brands in the 2.4 million square complex where the North American International Auto Show takes place each January is no longer as contradictory as it would have been a decade earlier.

Environmentalists are mainstream consumers today. Hybrid vehicles are everywhere. Now, Tesla and General Motors have scaled production of their electric cars to a point where they are affordable.

Yet even with the ability to drive without contributing to global warming, demographics have changed and automotive ownership is no longer the ultimate status symbol.

With urban farming providing locally sourced food, bike paths, light rail and the ability to hail a car with touch of a smartphone, city centers are thriving in once abandoned downtowns like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit.

It’s against that reality that Vikoren Skrzyniarz wisely chose the Motor City for a look at the new definition of “the good life,” and Bill Ford to speak on a day where investors watching closely to see how corporate America is responding.

CR Magazine’s blog will provide updates throughout the conference. Check back to see all the action here!

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