Advertising Week APAC 2022 kicked off with an insightful conversation revolving around people, planet and prosperity. Taking to the stage for the “In Conversation” series was Rupen Desai, CMO of Dole Sunshine Company and co-founder of The Shed 28.
Listed as one of Forbes’ Most Influential CMOs in 2022, Rupen cuts through the veneer about what it really means to be a responsible brand that cares about people, planet and prosperity on equal standing. Citing leadership teams who want to embrace the agenda but may not know how, Rupen emphasises that in order for transformation to happen, alignment across leadership must happen from the CEO to the CFO to the CIO.
“All of them must be able to see how this will increase prosperity for the company. And also prosperity for every stakeholder across the value chain, including the planet. The moment we start looking at the planet as a stakeholder, the way we do business will transform,” says Rupen.
Interviewed by Advertising Week’s global president Ruth Mortimer, Rupen answered the hard question of whether it is possible for companies to stay committed when they see profits shrinking. “The honest answer is it’s a difficult one. It’s difficult when short-term profits are being threatened. But at the same time, there is a big wave of what I call ‘Finkism’ that gives much optimism,” says Rupen, alluding to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s letters to CEOs on the need to be at the convergence of people, planet and prosperity.
The topic of sustainability and responsibility brings up the need for companies to go beyond a passive reliance on the ESG framework, and Rupen acknowledges the controversy surrounding it.
“If you adopt the viewpoint that the planet is a stakeholder, you can imagine a conversation with the planet would go this way: ‘Is it okay if I continue to abuse your resources for the next 30 years, but I promise to stop reducing the damage I’m doing year by year over the next 30 years’. That’s the kind of conversation we’re having with the planet today,” says Rupen.
He adds that ESG measures what companies are doing but not necessarily the actual impact of creating a sustainable world. “If we want to talk about a better world, we have to move away from the language of ESG to the language of regeneration.”
At Dole, Rupen works on “building brands that our conscience can live with” and provides sustainable nutrition to everyone. As the founder of The Shed 28, a purposeful growth agency cum consultancy, Rupen’s mission is to build businesses that leave behind a better world with a track record of “humanised growth”.
Dole created a stir last year with its Malnutrition Facts campaign, which highlighted information about alarming nutrition and health. That was followed by a second iteration of the campaign where trash receptacles and trash bags in New York city carried information about food waste. This message of systemic food inequality was highlighted to draw attention to societal issues of food and nutrition access and affordability.
Rupen shares how Dole walks the talk in developing sustainable products that are viable business opportunities. We asked the question, “what can I do with wasted fruit?”, and from there, ideas began to formulate around the supplements business, explains Rupen. “Why do you need chemicals in supplements when fruits and the essence of fruit is so much better?” So, when you start to really look at ugly fruit, you can think about developing it as a beverage or even as a snack…and these ideas can lead to business opportunities.”
With this example, Rupen shows how Dole begins its shift from a traditional business model to one that is about health, wellness and nutrition. It is also an apt example of how people, planet and prosperity can thrive independently together, and not at the cost of one or the other.