On Tuesday, Planet Experts attended the SBC Awards in Los Angeles. Never heard of the SBC Awards? Well it’s a lot like the Oscars, except they give away potted plants instead of little gold men.
The 5th Annual Sustainable Business Council Industry Achievement Awards draws together the most eco-minded entrepreneurs in Southern California to honor their achievements in – what else? – sustainable business. Held on April 19 at Lexus Santa Monica, the event was hosted by the SBC, a non-profit organization that provides a forum for professional networking and education in sustainable services, and sponsored by SolarCity (along with a laundry list of the greenest businesses in the green business).
Basically, the SBC Awards are where green folks go to share their triumphs and their tribulations. It’s where the SBC shines a light on organizations, individuals and projects that support their sustainable mission “to improve businesses’ operating efficiencies, profit margins and staff productivity, while lowering the ecological impact of their products and services.” Award recipients are given Ming Aralias to take care of instead of metallic paperweights.
“Sustainable style is beyond eco groovy,” said Molly Lavik, Executive Director of the SBC. “It’s about stepping out in style while knowing you are wearing apparel that was made with a mission underscoring environmentally friendly materials!”
As you might imagine, it’s a very progressive affair.
Check Your Cynicism at the Door
A neophyte to any corporate agenda that’s not trying to actively skirt, suppress, slip, stump or screw sustainable policy, I was surprised to find myself in the company of so many companies out to do good.
Cynical? Sure. But I wasn’t the only one. On accepting SBC’s Lifetime Achievement in Sustainability Award for an Individual, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario confessed that she was herself skeptical – even after taking the top spot at Patagonia in 2014. “I came to Patagonia as a skeptic from corporate America, from private equity,” she said, “and I didn’t believe that this model could work.”
It was a frank admission – and a bold one, given that Patagonia has come to represent the benchmark in sustainable business practices. The company is also a leader in supply chain ethics, employee benefits and environmental charity. For 43 years, Patagonia has been dedicated to this mission: making quality products that “cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
It took less than two years to convince Marcario the model was right on time. Under her leadership, Patagonia has tripled its already impressive sales and doubled the scale of its operations. Marcario is now a Patagonia believer and wants to spread the company’s mission to others in the business world.
“If you look at what’s happening to the planet today – and we’re all business people – the KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] of the planet suck. CO2 emissions, ocean acidification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, they suck. Business is responsible for 75 percent of the pollution in the world, and we need to fix it.” The crowd let loose a thunderous applause and Marcario ended her acceptance speech with a shot at conservative critics who argue profits and sustainability are mutually exclusive. “And you know what?” she said with a grin. “We’re going to make a lot of money doing it.”
The ceremony rode that high over the next hour until musician and animal rights activist Moby took the stage to accept the final award of the night, SBC’s Activist Recipient.
Moby Drops the Mic
Ryland Engelhart, co-owner of Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre restaurants, presented the award to the artist. Before he did so, he admitted to the audience that he was a big fan of Moby but, judging from previous encounters, he wasn’t sure if the man actually liked him back. Soft spoken and somewhat shy, Moby reassured Ryland that the feeling was mutual.
“No, I like you a lot,” he said, but added that his Connecticut WASP heritage has left him incapable of knowing how to properly show emotions. “I smile once a year in private.”
Moby then commended the SBC for drawing together so many people who are actually making a difference. “I want to be cynical,” said Moby, “but the stories I’ve heard have actually been really inspiring, so thank you very much.”
In his acceptance speech, the quiet Moby let his passion take hold of him as he excoriated the animal agriculture industry. “All these disparate issues and causes that people are talking about, there’s one common denominator that people aren’t aware of, which is animal agriculture,” he said. Spending 40 percent of California’s water and returning less than one percent back in the state’s GDP, the industry is a major liability during California’s unprecedented drought, said the artist. The industry as a whole is also responsible for 14 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
What has kept Moby a vegan for 28 years, the artist explained, is that animal agriculture contributes in some part to not only climate change but also obesity, cancer, diabetes, ocean acidification and deforestation.
“We have a system that subsidizes all the things that are killing us,” he concluded. “We subsidize petroleum production, we subsidize animal agriculture, we subsidize the chemical industry, Big Pharma. We subsidize all these industries that are destroying us. Why the fuck can’t we in a representative democracy subsidize something that’s good for us?”
The audience completely lost it at that point, rising to their feet and sending Moby offstage with a cascade of cheers.