Inspiration

Power Pack | Forum for the Future CEO Dr Sally Uren

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Dr Sally Uren, the CEO of Forum for the Future, works with both individual pioneering businesses including Unilever and Kimberly Clark and global collaborations designed to address system-wide challenges. Dr Uren is coming to Australia for the first time in a professional capacity to headline Sustainable Brands 2016 Sydney (SB16 Sydney) – the inaugural Australian gathering of forward thinking global business and brand strategists, marketing innovators and sustainability professionals.

Based in the UK and overseeing offices in the US, Singapore and India, Dr Uren leads a number of global projects including Net Positive (an initiative challenging businesses to put back more into society, environment and the global economy than they take out), Cotton 2040 (a project aiming to mainstream sustainable cotton) and Tea 2030 (a project to deliver a sustainable tea value chain).

At SB16 Sydney, Dr Uren will highlight key opportunities such as system innovation, the circular economy, pre-competitive collaboration and closing the circle between government, business and the consumer/community. She encourages professionals from all industries including marketing, design, construction, architecture, finance, medicine, communication, technology and so many more to join over 300 professionals across three days of plenaries, workshops and networking events to help shape a more sustainable future.

 

What attracted you to this field?

I’ve always been fascinated with how different elements of a system interact, which is why I completed a degree in Biology, and also equally fascinated by the power of communication, which is why half way through the Biology degree I switched to English Literature, only to get bored and switch back.

But Biology wasn’t enough, I wanted to understand the interface between living systems and the economy, so persuaded the Biology tutors to let me take an economics module. From that quite diverse array of modules came my love for environmental science, which was sealed when I completed my final year project, which in turn focused on cleaning up the pollution in the Manchester Ship Canal.  Inspired by the knowledge that it is possible to reverse environmental damage, I embarked on my PhD, and then a Post Doc in Borneo, where I saw again both how fragile our world is, but equally how possible it is to change the story.

This is when I realised being an academic wasn’t enough, in the mid 1990’s I began to realise that business could change its story. From being the cause of all evil, to actually being part of the solution. This is why I’ve spent the last two decades harnessing the power of business and brands to try and create a better, more sustainable future.

 

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

Two challenges have been consistent in my career. The first is trying to persuade people to do something new. When I started working with business on sustainability issues, the focus was a very compliance-based one.

The notion that sustainability issues could drive value, could inform strategy and business models was seen as quite ridiculous. Today, the idea that businesses can change a system, overcome investor apathy, often in collaboration with their competitors, is seen by some as equally audacious. Which brings me to the second challenge, finding the resilience to keep going, when the going is tough. I’ve lived the phrase ‘the more you change a system, the harder it pushes back’.

 

What did you do to overcome them?

Create new markets! Make the next new thing attractive, build the business case, change hearts and minds. And be kind to yourself.

Creating a sustainable future is a marathon, not a sprint.

What three pieces of advice would you give to women who want to follow a similar career?

Don’t take no for an answer, have an alternative suggestion ready

Don’t present problems, present solutions

Harness the energy and passion of those around you.  It’s gold dust.

 

Dr Sally Uren2Dr Sally Uren headlines Sustainable Brands 2016 Sydney, 27 – 29 June 2016 | Sofitel Sydney Wentworth. Sustainable Brands events were founded on the belief that unleashing the best of human ingenuity and innovation can change the shape of business, and with it, the world. The SB16 Sydney conference offers the opportunity for business leaders to join 300+ professionals over three days of plenaries, workshops and networking events, 27 – 29 June 2016 at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth. Register via: http://www.sb16sydney.com/

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