The 2023 edition of the North American Sustainability & Responsibility Summit ran January 30th through February 1st at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines outside Austin, Texas. It was attended by 410 delegates, speakers, sponsor representatives, and guests from almost two hundred different companies and organizations. The agenda included more than fifty keynotes, case studies, workshops, roundtable discussions, and more. In the days after the event, feedback has been universally positive, and work is already underway to make the 2024 edition of the series event bigger and better.

That is the shortest overview we can offer of the event. Here is the longer version, which we will try to make both concise and at times entertaining.

In the Beginning…

The North American Sustainability & Responsibility Summit series has an unlikely origin story. It was a runaway success as a new launch while the conference industry worldwide reeled from the impact of COVID-19 on the public’s appetite for gathering together in large crowds indoors.

Even as almost every long-running and successful conference series globally was being cancelled, postponed, or struggled to transition into an online format, Executive Platforms kept getting input from our network of delegates who attend our events geared towards Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Food, Pharmaceuticals, Finance, and HR leaders that Sustainability was an issue and a topic area worth having a dedicated event organized around, and would Executive Platforms consider creating a new summit for senior executives working in that space?

“Is this something we can do online for the first time during the pandemic?” We would ask, and the question was not trying to solicit a yes. Our business is organizing industry conferences for senior decision-makers who have similar roles and responsibilities. We are very good at what we do, but we were still in the process of figuring out how to translate the in-person experience and value of participating into a virtual interaction. We were not looking to take on a new project while we made that transition.

Still, over and over again we were told some version of, “Sure! You send me an email about it, and I’ll forward it on to the person in charge of our Sustainability efforts, telling them they should do it.”

Executive Platforms did successfully move all of our other events into a virtual format through 2020 and early 2021, and so the decision was made at last to try to launch a new series using that already established and tested online infrastructure. From January to October of 2021, Executive Platforms did no active marketing beyond sending emails to our existing network to let them know about the new series. When NASRS21 ran on October 25th and 26th, 2021, we had more than 200 attendees —the vast majority of whom had never participated in an Executive Platforms event before— engaging together in two virtual streams of content, three interactive chat rooms, and a virtual exhibition hall.

The event exceeded all of our modest expectations, and work began at once to create an in-person version of what we had all experienced together online. Our efforts were complicated by the forward calendars of dozens of postponed conferences, symposia, forums, and tradeshows all fighting for the same hotel space and dates, plus the uncertainty of when different jurisdictions would re-open and stay open to events such as ours. With some regret the decision was made to forgo running the event in 2022, choosing instead to kick off the first physical event in the series in early 2023 to ensure we had the time to make it a success.

As a final piece of NASRS23’s unlikely story, not only was it a surprising success born out of the midst of a pandemic, but it is the first Executive Platforms event ever to be held at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, outside Austin, Texas. While looking around for a space to accommodate us with availability in early 2023, the resort was recommended to us by members of our AV Team who have a wide experience of North American hotels.

“This is one of my favorites,” we were told time and again. “This place is special.”

Executive Platforms announced the dates and venue for NASRS23 in March of 2022. With that, we committed ourselves to making the first physical event in the series the equal of any other summit we organize.

The Welcome Day

People reading this who attended the event will probably smile and shake their head ruefully when they read, “It was about as cold as Austin ever gets…”

While the day of January 28th was a typical Austin winter day with temperatures in the low 60s, by January 29th —the day before the event-proper that Executive Platforms likes to call the Welcome Day— temperatures had come down to the freezing point. Plans for outdoor meals and networking drinks receptions were moved indoors. Not even space heaters could guarantee people’s comfort.

With that said, the event began with two fantastic back-to-back panel discussions on, “Today’s Corporate Social Responsibility in an Age of Environmental Awareness” and, “Examining the State of the Circular Economy and What Advancements Need to be Made to Evolve the Model’s Future?” followed by a now-indoor reception with a taco bar and live entertainment. The crowd was so thick and the buzz of conversation so powerful that the guitar player’s music could not be heard from the outer edges of the party.

Most Executive Platforms welcome receptions last an hour or perhaps ninety minutes. The NASRS23 Welcome Drinks Reception lasted for more than two hours, and the attendees continued their conversations in the resort’s restaurants and bar well into the evening.

It was a fantastic start to a fantastic event.

Day One

The first full day of the event was colder even than the Welcome Day, but the mood was warm and happy as the Registration Desk opened at 7 am and delegates, speakers, and sponsor representatives arrived to enjoy breakfast together in our Exhibition Hall.

Opening Remarks and Important Announcements began at 7:45 am, and Page Motes, Dell Technologies’ Head of Global Sustainability began her welcome address a little before 8 am before sitting down for a fireside chat on, “Integrating Sustainability Across Your Business” with Jane Ewing of Walmart.

The fireside chat was followed by a keynote, “The Journey Towards an Inclusive All-Electric Future” by Kristen Siemen, the Chief Sustainability Officer of General Motors. After that presentation the agenda split into two streams of concurrent content. Room 1 continued to be chaired by Page Motes, and Room 2 was chaired by Heather Moore of LRQA. Broadly speaking, the content of Room 1 was geared towards Responsible Business Practices, while Room 2 focused on Culture and Leadership. Delegates were encouraged to check the agenda on the event app and choose the sessions that interested them the most. Case studies from Evan van Hook, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Honeywell, and Suzanne Long, the Chief Sustainability and Transformation Officer of Albertson Companies, followed before the summit attendees enjoyed a networking break that included pre-scheduled one-to-one meetings with other speakers, delegates, and sponsors.

After the break, delegates had their choice of workshops: “The Relentless Pursuit of Progress and Trust in ESG” presented by Workiva, or “The New Net Zero: Carbon Markets Today and Tomorrow Under Articles 6” presented by Trafigura. This was then followed by case studies “Reimagining a Healthier Future for All People, Their Pets and Our Planet” by Ann Tracy, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Colgate-Palmolive, and “The Path to Carbon Zero and Navigating Scope 3 Emissions” by Brandon Middaugh, Microsoft’s Director, Climate Innovation Fund.

The lunch break that followed included both a general lunch where delegates could sit with whoever they liked and talk about whatever they wanted, as well as more structured lunch-and-learn roundtable discussions hosted by executives who chose a theme that delegates could opt into ahead of time. These lunches are often among the most popular features of Executive Platforms events because of their intimate and unstructured but focused networking and group discussion on a topic of common interest. NASRS23 had a dozen such lunches on Day One, with another one unfortunately cancelled due to weather-related travel delays. We are delighted to say much of the content that would have been covered in that lunch was done through a virtual presentation.

Returning from lunch, attendees had their choice of two more case studies, “How to Drive ESG in a Fragile World” by Michael Okoroafor, the Chief Sustainability Officer of McCormick & Company, and “Decarbonizing Transportation and Industrial Sectors of the Economy” by Carlos Maurer, Shell’s EVP, Sectors and Decarbonization, followed by two workshops, “A Holistic Decarbonization Approach for All the Energy You’re Consuming” presented by three different executives from Schneider Electric, and “Technology: Measuring and Monitoring True Sustainability Performance” presented by the Chief Technology Officer of OPTEL.

The afternoon’s networking break was shorter than the morning’s, but no less productive and enjoyable. Afterwards, the delegates all moved to Room 1 to enjoy two keynotes, “Changing the Way We Do Business: Building a Sustainable Food System Alongside Evolving Consumer Wants and Needs” by David Allen, VP, Chief Sustainability Officer or PepsiCo Foods North America, and “The New Era of Aerospace Starts with Innovative Technology” by Chris Raymond, Boeing’s Chief Sustainability Officer.

Page Motes closed the day’s agenda with some thoughts, and then the audience was left to enjoy the Day One networking drinks reception in the Exhibition Hall, with many of them also invited to an executive dinner sponsored by Workiva at the Shady Grove.

Day Two

The weather was even worse overnight. Freezing rain fell for hours. Every tree branch and fence was coated in a thick sheath of ice. A large tree branch fell onto the road connecting the resort to the highway. People’s phones were receiving constant updates on flight statuses. Speakers and attendees driving in from Austin normally only 20 minutes away were calling ahead to say they were on their way but proceeding with caution.

With that said, NASRS23 continued to power through, beginning with a breakfast workshop in Room 2, “Global Talent 2023: The Evolving Role of the CSO Today” presented by Heidrick & Struggles before the Day Two opening keynote, “Utilizing Science, Collaboration, and Urgency to Set and Achieve ESG Goals” by Gayle Schueller, 3M’s SVP & Chief Sustainability Officer. That was followed by another keynote, “Accurately Describing a Product’s Environmental Footprint and Enabling Informed Consumer Purchasing Decisions” by Marissa McGowan, L’Oreal’s Chief Sustainability Offier.

With the second day of NASRS23 now well and truly launched, the agenda split into two streams of content again. Emma Stewart spoke about, “Lessons Learned from Netflix’s Public Climate Targets” —an update on her very popular, “Behind the Scenes of Netflix’s Net Zero + Nature by 2022 Commitment” presented virtually at NASRS21— and in Room 2, Stanley Merritt of Northrop Grumman Corporation talked about, “How a Sustainable Future Starts with Goals.”

The Day Two morning networking break gave everyone a chance to both digest the content they had enjoyed so far, and also connect on any prescheduled one-on-one meetings they may have missed the day before. The break was followed by two more concurrent sessions: a fireside chat, “Creating and Curating Sustainable Brands and Experiences that Inspire New Consumer Habits” with Amanda Nusz of Target and Lucy Leahy of Grove Collaboration, and “Driving Innovation, Not Just Mitigation” with Mitch Jackson, Chief Sustainability Officer of FedEx. This was followed by the final two workshops of the summit, “Practical Considerations for Establishing a Scope 3 Data Collection Strategy” by Benchmark ESG and “Accelerating the Pace to Zero Waste: Strategies of a Sustainability Sherpa” by Okapi Environmental Services.

Lunch on Day Two included both the general networking lunch option, as well as six more themed roundtable discussions. This was then followed by two more case studies in breakout rooms: “Sustainable Agriculture: From Ideation Straight to the Hands of Consumers” by Janelle Meyers, Kellogg Company’s Chief Sustainability Officer, and “Sustainability Leadership: Behind the Scenes” by Edward Palmieri, Meta’s Global Head of Sustainability.

The final session of the summit was a panel discussion with Page Motes and Michael Okoroafor who you have heard about earlier joining Rachel Saltzman, Volkswagen Group of America’s Sr. Director for Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability, and Erik Hansen, Wynn Resorts’ Chief Sustainability Officer, to talk about, “Strategies for Effective Climate Leadership.”

In addition to the sessions mentioned here, Executive Platforms also recorded nine 15- to 30-minute interviews on site for future episodes of its bluEprint Podcast Series, so look forward to the edited versions of those being published soon.

It should also be noted that all participants of NASRS23 received complimentary offsets for travel to and from the summit, courtesy of SouthPole.

Executive Platforms would like to thank everyone who contributed so much of their time, energy, and expertise to make this event such a success. Stay tuned for news and updates on NASRS24, which will almost certainly be taking place in March when better weather can be expected.

Geoff Micks
Head of Content & Research
Executive Platforms

Geoff joined the industry events business as a conference producer in 2010 after four years working in print media. He has researched, planned, organized, run, and contributed to more than a hundred events across North America and Europe for senior leaders, with special emphasis on the energy, mining, manufacturing, maintenance, supply chain, human resources, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, finance, and sustainability sectors. As part of his role as Head of Content & Research, Geoff hosts Executive Platforms’ bluEPrint Podcast series as well as a weekly blog focusing on issues relevant to Executive Platforms’ network of business leaders.

Geoff is the author of five works of historical fiction: Inca, Zulu, Beginning, Middle, and End. The New York Times and National Public Radio have interviewed him about his writing, and he wrote and narrated an animated short for Vice Media that appeared on HBO. He has a BA Honours with High Distinction from the University of Toronto specializing in Journalism with a Double Minor in History and Classical Studies, as well as Diploma in Journalism from Centennial College.