Sally Hill: How Can We Co-create A Sustainable Future?
Acknowledgement of Country: This interview was conducted on Gadigal Country. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians of this land, past, present and emerging. We recognise their deep connection to the land and their unique cultural heritage, which continues to enrich our shared community.
Sally Hill is the founder of Purpose Conference and the General Manager of impact investment firm, Tripple. Sally is a business leader, impact investor, thinker and doer in the purpose-driven business world.
We're excited to talk about this year's Purpose Conference with Sally. In this interview, Sally talks about the insights of curating this year's Purpose Conference, the circular economy, inclusion of First Nations people, and adaptation for the future.
What is Purpose Conference all about?
Purpose Conference brings together people from all walks of life. It could be people working in big companies, start-ups, social enterprises, government, or anywhere in the community. It's for people who share a common belief in the urgent need to address pressing environmental and social justice issues.
Purpose is about solving these problems through the lens of business. Whether we like it or not, business shapes our lives and economy. It's a key organising force.
However, business doesn't always reflect society's values. Most companies operate in relative isolation, particularly big companies with complex global supply chains, where ethics and responsibility can get lost.
Purpose advocates for a responsible, ethical and sustainable business ecosystem. The way we work in the economy can be radically different, and there are many different ways to make it work—in policy, regulation, cultural advocacy, creativity and business innovation. We try to cover all those aspects and bring in many different influences and people, all aligned with those values.
We get excited by the start-ups presenting at the conference. The new generation of businesses is often created to solve a social or environmental problem through innovative business models.
We put a lot of love into making Purpose a welcoming, exciting space, catering to open-minded individuals and serving as a catalyst for expanding perspectives.
The circular economy is one of the key themes at Purpose. Why do you think it's important?
We think deeply about how the economy works, how supply chains work, and the impact on the environment.
The current economy requires so many resources and materials to make all the products that we buy and all of the conveniences that we enjoy. But we're at risk of using up all the virgin resources. The only way we can have a more sustainable future is to reuse those resources.
Purpose has been advocating for the circular economy since 2015, when it was still a very new concept to many people. As the concept becomes more mainstream, we want to help close the gap between the intention of transitioning to a circular economy, and the transformation required to actually get there.
Our role at Purpose is to seed new ideas into people's minds. We've shared ideas like natural capital and how we value nature. We've also profiled businesses that integrated the circular economy principles into their business models.
For example, we've featured Interface, the commercial flooring company that's been leading the circular economy movement. It was inspiring to learn that they use biomimicry in their design thinking. Nature is inherently circular, there's no waste.
At last year's event, we featured some of the upcoming technology that helps enable the circular economy. For example, FibreTrace technology. It traces the DNA stamp onto a seed, so even if the final piece of clothing is incinerated, you can still trace the origin of the fibre.
The circular economy is a very wicked problem. It requires deep changes to the infrastructure, supply chains, our culture and the way we use things.
But I think the circular economy is a good way for people to get into more significant forms of thinking. We need to move from using nature as a resource to a fully regenerative system. We have living, breathing ecosystems around us all the time. It requires understanding deep ecology principles, but the circular economy concept could be a pathway to it.
How does Purpose create collaborative opportunities?
It can be tricky. We're bringing people from different sectors who are passionate about all these issues. For example, we could have someone who works in ESG (environmental, social, and governance) for a bank, while we would also have climate campaigners who are sceptical. But the person who's with the bank might be doing the absolute most, trying to transform that company.
It's a melting pot, and sometimes, we have a clashing of different points of view and beliefs. It's a reflection of the world's complexity right now.
We're trying to set up the conference this year to embrace complexity. No one is pure and free from the system that we're in. We need empathy for each other and a sense of commonality. We're all trying, even if we come from different places.
How does Purpose create space for First Nations people and communities?
This is something we've thought so deeply about for this year's event. A lot of our network is non-Indigenous, so it takes a leap to think outside our own world and networks.
In Australia, we have not done an acceptable job of creating spaces for Indigenous people in the economy, business and in all cultural contexts. Indigenous people have been excluded for so long.
In the big crises we're facing, I think one of the most exciting opportunities is thinking through the lens of Indigenous knowledge systems and learning. We want to learn, but we also need to make sure that Indigenous people are not only seen as a resource for everyone to grab.
In New Zealand, the Māori culture is trying to avoid being co-opted or subsumed into capitalism. At Purpose, we do not want to integrate First Nations wisdom into Western culture. We want to protect it and, therefore, be able to learn from it.
This year, we're collaborating with we are the mainstream, who are helping us to support the attendance of First Nations People. There will be a First Nations-only space and a yarning circle for First Nations people to debrief, talk about what they're experiencing, and maybe complain about what we’ve been doing! We're giving 50 free places for First Nations People to attend so that their voices are in the room to contribute. We want to make sure we create a safe space for First Nations people to participate.
How does Purpose approach innovation?
There are two levels. There's the innovation happening in the world that we harness and curate, which we can't take any credit for. It's the amazing people who are doing the incredible work, starting new businesses and doing the hard yards. We pull them together and show people what innovation looks like.
The second level is for our team. Our creative director, Kate Hurst, is amazing. We've always collaborated with artists to address those issues through beauty and creativity. It takes us all year round to create the event. We have lots of conversations with people, listen to what they say, what they are passionate about. We put a lot of effort into understanding what our guests would like to experience and learn about.
Unlike many conferences, we don't have the ‘shiny’ version of everything on stage. Purpose is about the challenges, mishaps and mistakes. It helps to create a shorter distance between the speaker and the audience.
What are you the most excited about this year's conference?
One of the things I'm excited about is the theme of adaptation. We're facing climate change and many other problems in the world. We're working towards net zero, but what about the climate change already locked in? What will the future look like?
This year, we have a session called 'Adapt or Die'. It's an invitation to think about what climate-adapted communities and businesses will look like and how to work towards repairing the impacts of climate change and damaging consumption patterns.
Philosopher Glenn Albrecht will be speaking again about the Symbioscene, a concept of a future where humans are working in a symbiotic way with nature. It's a beautiful counterpoint to the deep concern about the climate change and biodiversity crisis.
We also have Tyson Yunkaporta, founder of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab, speaking this year. One of the things he talks about is relational complexity. It's about understanding that everything we do causes reactions and impacts on other things. No one acts in isolation. We all know it at some level, but we pretend we don't have to worry about it.
We ask an existential question to all businesses, 'Should you exist?'. If yes, how can you change your business model to become more sustainable? And if not, do you have to disappear?
From that perspective, with Purpose, our mission is to bring accountability, responsibility and ethics to all businesses, so that their values are not separated from personal human values. Businesses are part of the community, and we have expectations of ethical conduct. We expect all businesses to operate as citizens and for citizens.
What is your vision for Purpose?
My honest answer is actually taking it year by year, event by event. It takes a lot of energy to put it on. At this stage, the team and I are having a lot of conversations about the future, but none of those ideas have been solidified yet.
Purpose is quite a risky endeavour. It requires a lot of financial capital upfront, while money only comes in at the very last minute through ticket sales. It's nail-biting. I could personally end up in quite a lot of financial trouble.
Therefore, failure is not an option. We just have to continue to believe in it and make it work. We know we've done everything we could. We know we put our hearts and souls into it. People will come through, and so far, they have. We're expecting 1,000 people this year.
Despite everything, Purpose's mission will ultimately never change: to help people think outside the norm, tell new stories, and think in brand new ways. We want to share how we see the world and invite people to see the world the same way as us—ripe for change and full of opportunity.
Zoe Duc is a passionate environmental writer, graduated from a master’s degree of journalism and communication at UNSW. From a young age, Zoe has been concerned about the intensifying effects of climate change. She dedicates her talents to join this fight. Connect with Zoe on Linkedin.
Danling is the co-founder of ReCo and creative director of reco.digital. Danling has an unwavering passion for creativity, spirituality and the pursuit of positive change in the world. Connect with Danling on Linkedin.
November 3, 2023
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