Sustainable Brands held its flagship annual conference in Vancouver in June, with the Erb Institute as a strategic partner. Erb and SB had teamed up for the SB17 conference in Detroit, recognizing that our missions and sustainability-related goals were closely aligned. The theme of that conference was “Redefining the Good Life,” and SB18 carried that theme forward, focusing this time on “Redesigning the Good Life.” As a strategic partner, Erb will continue to work with Sustainable Brands to plan for SB19, which is bringing the conference back to Detroit with the conference theme “Delivering the Good Life.”


In Vancouver, Erb Managing Director Terry Nelidov helped facilitate the workshop on “Best Practices and Challenges in Event Sustainability,” together with global event manager Freeman. Attendees shared their experiences with holding sustainable events—the good, the bad and the ugly—and talked about best practices and areas that can be improved. With participants coming mainly from the membership of the Industry Events Council, it was encouraging to see how the events conversation has moved beyond compostable vs. disposable plates, to minimizing food waste, supporting local suppliers, promoting organic alternatives, facilitating accessibility for attendees with physical challenges, promoting diversity in speakers and session content, and replacing the classic conference bag with digital agendas and virtual exhibitions.


Sara Soderstrom, Erb faculty and assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s Program in the Environment, led the session “Company-Community Partnerships for Purpose and Sustainable Impact.” One example she highlighted was how the Detroit Lions team has built partnerships to benefit Detroit residents—in ways that make sense for both the Lions and the local communities. The process has required the team’s humility in being willing to learn about the city’s needs, and the team has chosen partners that align well with the team’s core purpose. This kind of match helps build sustainable partnerships.


Design thinking is a solutions-focused methodology that designers use in business and beyond to solve complex problems. Building from the conference theme of “Redesigning the Good Life,” design thinking was weaved throughout the conference, giving attendees opportunities to redesign product and service offerings and rethink business models for a changing, more sustainable economy—and to respond to shifting societal needs.

SB18’s Good Pavilions, which were organized around industries and initiatives, employed design thinking during their Innovation Labs. Each of 12 Innovation Labs led attendees through a facilitated design-thinking process, drawing on the diverse perspectives the attendees brought from different disciplines, industries and locations. Convergent thinking allowed the conversation to progress and develop solutions, and attendees turned the best ideas into prototypes. The Erb Institute is working on a report summarizing the ideas that all 12 labs generated. The institute developed an Innovation Lab report for SB17 as well, which was released earlier in 2018.

The theme for SB19 is “Delivering the Good Life.” SB will continue the progress made and design thinking used at SB18 through its ongoing global conversations, and Erb will continue as an SB strategic partner with a focus on helping connect the SB conference and member companies to the urban revitalization that is happening in Detroit.