Sustainable Industries Economic Forum, held in San Francisco last week, was full of feisty dialogue and a big announcement about the merger between Sustainable Industries and Triple Pundit.  The overarching theme was “access economy”–a newly coined term that is about transparency, engagement, empowerment and access.

Alex Bogusky, the Steve Jobs of the Ad World

The event was kicked off by a presentation from Alex Bogusky, formally known as the Steve Jobs of the ad world, before he left Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the advertising agency that he co-founded.  His presentation reflected his creativity, integrating cardboard signs that he has purchased from the homeless, as part of what he calls “street philanthropy”.

Bogusky  left the corporate world because he felt stuck in a system that is broken and failing.  “Capitalism is the most powerful force on earth, but it is in crisis,” he stressed.

The gist of his premise is that our current economy, built on disposability, secrecy and competition, must make a transition towards sustainability, transparency, fun and collaboration in order to survive.

He has launched a new project, COMMON, a collaborative brand for social entrepreneurs that uses the power of a strong corporate brand to support “impact entrepreneurs”.  The ultimate, ambitious goal is a total consumer revolution.  I liked his ability to communicate a Natural Step-type concept that we are hitting our resource limit with his stone in a bucket metaphor mixed with a Cradle-to-Cradle concept that we need to make good stuff not less stuff.

After reviewing the COMMON Web site, I am not 100% clear who is funding the effort to build the new COMMON brand or how it will happen, but I love the idea of using corporate advertising savvy to promote sustainability and make saving the world more fun.

The Sustainability Consortium:  Delivering Scale

While Bogusky is “mostly frustrated with big companies,”  Bonnie Nixon, the new Executive Director of the Sustainability Consortium, has put her faith in large companies to bring new solutions to scale.  Nixon is positive about the boundless opportunities in front of us and although she is working with the largest global corporate retailers, her comments also reflect her activist roots.  Nixon started her comments by stressing, “It is time to wake up and do the things we care about.”

What the Sustainability Consortium cares about is helping companies work collaboratively to build a new accounting system that internalizes externalities.  It is not about creating a new eco-label, but about the collaborative impact it can have in the B to B space.  Nixon stressed she is working with a collection of people who are intrapreneurs–folks working to make a difference from the inside. To learn more about her work, see the recent piece written by Joel Makower on GreenBiz.

With Occupy Wall Street making headlines, it is an interesting time to be working within the large corporate engine that many are criticizing.  Nixon describes her work as harnessing the collaborative power of the largest retailers, which collectively can impact their supply chains, catalyzing massive changes that no company alone can accomplish.  Nixon joked her initiative is about “where the rubber meets the sky.”  She sees the access economy about creating common metrics and mainstreaming life cycle assessment (LCA) approaches so the smaller brands can afford to complete LCAs.

In the Q&A, Bogusky and Nixon had some friendly sparring on the topic of whose model was going to save the world.  While COMMON will nurture new and innovative ideas, Nixon argues it will be the larger companies that will buy them and take them to scale.  It doesn’t seem like an either/or in this case, but a yes/and–hard to imagine moving the needle without both efforts succeeding.

Join the Movement

I you want to stay in touch with COMMON, like its Facebook page or follow it on Twitter.

Because the Sustainability Consortium is about scale, one of Nixon’s top priorities is attracting new members.  It has two levels of membership. Tier One members have the opportunity to participate on the Steering Committee and in any sector working groups and/or consortium working groups of interest. Tier Two members have the opportunity to participate in sector working groups.   For more information on membership, you can contact Shaun Brenton, Vice President Corporate Relations at

Sustainability Consulting Bay Area

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