Although the word “sustainability” doesn’t include the letters “re,” this combo is a critical part of its core meaning, from recycling and reusing, to inspiring us to rethink every step of how we do business.

The theme for the Sustainable Brands® 2014 conferences, Reimagine, Redesign, Regenerate, brings the concept of sustainability full circle, highlighting ways that businesses can create—and mainstream—regenerative models that not only result in less bad (carbon, waste, etc.) but also help create more good.

This year’s first Sustainable Brands®  conference will be hosted April 24-25 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and will be followed by gatherings in Istanbul, Turkey, May 28-29; San Diego, California, June 2-5; Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sept 4-5 and London, UK, November 3-5. San Diego, the largest gathering, will feature the finals of the SB Innovation Open, where sustainability-focused startups have a chance to share their story and win prizes, from cash to promotion opportunities, that will help drive brand growth. The deadline for the next Innovation Open is March 17, 2014. (To enter, go to www.sbio.co/enter.)

The theme for the 2013 gatherings, From Revolution to Renaissance, focused on positive shifts taking place in business and society, highlighting innovation that is reinvigorating global and local economies. Last year, over 2,500 people from around the globe participated in SB’s San Diego gathering, including many who joined in virtually via livestream feed. The event also featured over 180 speakers from companies and organizations ranging from startups to Fortune 500s. The other gatherings are also growing quickly with over 500+ attendees per event and speakers ranging from climate change experts at CDP to Starbucks’ director of environmental affairs.

Tossing out the word “waste.” 

 One of the highlights from the San Diego gathering was the plenary with the sage of eco-design and author of Cradle to Cradle, Bill McDonough. His ultimate vision is to make the word “waste” disappear from our vernacular. “In my new book Upcycle, we just eliminated the concept of waste,” he says. “Everything is designed to be food for something else.”

Bringing this theory into the real world, McDonough, the creator of the C2C certification and founder of MBDC, a world-renowned green design consultancy, has teamed up with Waste Management—the company that picks up and processes the bulk of America’s trash—to create the Sustainable Innovation Collaborative. The goal of this powerful partnership is to work with businesses of all sizes to redesign packaging and products for optimum recyclability, ecology and human health. Ultimately, the hope is to retrain businesses as well as consumers to see waste as an asset, a resource that has value and, ironically, should not to be wasted.

“What we have previously thought of as ‘waste streams’ can be transformed into positive, safe, healthy resource reuse systems that bring value to their communities in many forms,” said McDonough. “This is a key element of the Cradle-to-Cradle vision. We see resources as nutrients in the biosphere or technosphere. Once you reframe materials this way, the future of abundance becomes possible.”

The New Waste-Eliminating Eco-preneurs

 When it comes to finding new uses for waste or preventing it altogether, the startups featured at the Sustainable Brands® gatherings worldwide did not waste any opportunities. Some of these included:

  • FreshPaper, winner of the 2013 SB Innovation Open, is a compostable material infused with organic botanicals that can extend the life of fresh produce by 2-4 times, preventing tons of food waste. (For more on FreshPaper, check out the the cover story in OWN Winter 2013.
  • Thread takes trash in developing countries and uses it to create 1) jobs for the poor 2) recycled materials such as polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) flake, which can be converted into a diverse range of useful consumer products.
  • Isidore provides jobs to former prisoners who disassemble broken down tech products into materials that can be resold and reused. This idea not only keeps electronics out of the landfills, but also keeps prisoners out of an already overfilled prison system by providing employment.
  • ECOPLAS is the first Fair for Life certified bio-plastic in the world, made from a non-GMO tapioca-based resin.
  • Re: Char developed a low-cost kiln to convert agricultural waste (corn cobs, stalks etc) into biochar, a carbon-negative fertilizer. Small farmers in Africa were able to grow 144% more food and earn $200 of additional income per year.
  • Pulpworks uses recycled paper materials to create alternatives to PVP plastic packaging such as blister packs.

SB has also highlighted innovations from many mainstream multinational brands such as Scotch sponges, which uses waste from tequila manufacturing to make their product, and Coca-Cola, who worked with pop star will.i.am on a campaign called “Ekocycle” to help consumers realize the value of recycling. As the star put it, “waste is only waste if we waste it.”

Overall, inspiration comes in all sizes and shapes and the SB gatherings provide a spectrum of opportunities to learn from each other and create partnerships for a better world.

“We’re much more than just a conference. We’re an interdisciplinary, systems-thinking-in-action learning community comprised of multiple market participants who share the same level of clarity about the problem, hope in the possibility of solution, openness to change, willingness to collaborate, and proclivity to action,” says KoAnn Skrzyniarz, founder of Sustainable Brands®. “In my experience, this is a very rare set of intersecting traits and it makes for an absolutely amazing combustion of ideas and outcomes every time the community gets together!”

Brands are invited to propose a presentation topic, sponsor an event, exhibit or simply just attend. For more information on events, visit www.sustainablebrands.com/events/