All companies have a vested interest in being seen to do good. They also work within the framework of society and that framework is shifting. In order to find their space, they need to show a flexibility few have previously demonstrated.
If we call this framework capitalism, and what supports it consumerism, then the framework’s biggest challenge is, without doubt, the climate crisis.
As the environmentalist, George Monbiot says; in a system, where oil companies who have produced 35% of the the carbon dioxide and methane released by human activities since 1965, intend to increase production ad infinitum, with little or no governmental control, individual choices are lost. Consumerism renders us powerless, trapped in a narrow circle of decision-making; it is a brilliant con.
The system needs to be changed and people must act as citizens rather than consumers, because the choices we make when buying sustainable packaging rather than plastic, long-lasting clothes rather than disposable, will have no discernible effect.
You don’t have to be Greta to suffer from ‘flygskam’, because flying shame has become a thing, people are becoming wary of ‘fast fashion’, people are shunning the eating of animal products and young consumers are beginning to exert pressure on big companies and government, who had all been busy planning unhindered growth for decades ahead.
And it is not just in the west; concern for the environment is gaining momentum in places like China. There have been campaigns against fur and plastics and it is fanned by investors looking for the next big thing. And it is disrupting big business.
UBS recently released a study showing 37% of respondents, in eight big countries, have reduced their flying because of flight shame. And Chinese flyers were among the most concerned. The airline industry is going to take a massive hit.
Both fashion and food manufacturers produce more carbon emissions than aviation; they use huge amounts of water and pollute soils and rivers. Fast-fashion has vastly increased the number of collections sold each year. The throwaway culture has drawn the ire of western activists.
This summer, 32 of the world’s clothes-makers, including Gap, Nike, H&M and Zara, made a pact to make fashion less dirty. They are worried alternatives to fast-fashion, such as resale and rental clothing, might become popular. They can’t help it if their promos for this look like a spoof of Zoolander.
Vegans have made the trend towards meat-free food obvious enough for McDonalds and Burger King to inflict their own plant-based burgers on the world. Sweden has an actual ‘milk war’ between Oatly, an oat-based drink maker and Arla, a huge dairy manufacturer. You may have seen Oatley’s campaign; ‘It’s like milk but made for humans’. Clever.
Just before Christmas, Peleton, the fitness company, beloved of celebs, lost billions on the stock market because of a cheesy Christmas advert deemed to be sexist. Not clever.
Not everyone will want to join Extinction Rebellion, but these types of movements will proliferate until some seismic economic shift occurs and, in the meantime, business needs to prepare for a rapidly approaching new world order.
Survival is our strongest instinct and companies will have to be part of the climate solution to survive. We want to keep alive and companies, rather than inventing pine-scented variants of cleaning products, must come up with products that help the world’s survival. A bit of white vinegar will suffice.
We are going to demand this and companies are going to have to respond. Make no mistake, it is going to be huge, the backdrop to everything we do.
If you want to sell your products, you will have to be green. If you want to employ people, you will have to be green. Greenwashing will not cut it anymore.
Companies face huge challenges, but there are also massive opportunities for firms and employers that confront these issues head on, with transparency and honesty.
Most of them will fall, irrelevant, by the wayside.