brands and ecology: transitioning from words to concrete actions
For a long time now, you will not surprise anyone with advertising eco-companies, the launch of capsule collections of shoes made from recycled plastic, or the brand's regular participation in "green" events. But it is high time to move on to real actions, for example, to change the positioning of the company and re-profile production. This is required by the realities of the current day, but the consumer himself wants it.
In Edinburgh, I saw two neon signs at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Everything will be fine. There will be no miracles.
These two messages are united by the power of dynamic tension - they contain a desire for everything to work out, and a sticky fear that it will not work out. This opposition of desire and reality is reminiscent of a growing social trend in which the universal need for a brighter future is facing a massive obstacle: the climate crisis. The consequence of this collision is eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety on the rise
Social eco-anxiety today is the object of study. In 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a report on the growing impact of climate change on mental health, where eco-anxiety is understood as “a chronic fear of the death of nature.” The 2018 Yale University Climate Change Study found that 70% of Americans are "worried" about climate change, of which 59% feel "helpless."
News headlines and scientific reports only fuel emotions. The bottom line is that unless we radically and quickly change the way we grow food, cultivate land, transport goods, and consume energy, irreversible ecosystem destruction and mass extinction will occur. This thought is unnerving, even paralyzing, which can lead to either collective denial or general anxiety, which is confirmed by numerous testimonies.
As much as we would like to get out of this state, there is no cure for eco-anxiety. We have real, massive challenges ahead of us that will require the combined efforts of all nations, industries and communities - some compare it to waging a world war. Enough talk. Now is the time to act.
Why we need to fight climate change
Part of our job as brand strategists is to identify the social trends and needs described above. This allows us to shape our clients' brand identities to meet such needs, which in turn helps to hone design and communication, raise awareness and change perceptions.
With these techniques, we will be able to find the root causes of eco-anxiety, guiding companies in the real fight to save the climate. Applying our methods through a lean lens not only adds value and impact to our work, but also encourages industries to take specific actions that can lead to positive systemic change.
There's an important reason why companies should care about the climate: that's what their customers want. 81% of respondents around the world are convinced that companies should improve the environment. Moreover, environmentally responsible/ethical business practices are now the second most important driver for consumer loyalty (beyond brand name and mission).
Now that we've identified the social phenomenon and business driver, let's take a look at how a brand strategy can lead to meaningful climate action.
Brand strategies to address the causes of eco-anxiety
Below are four ways in which a brand strategy can contribute to the fight against climate change among companies.
1. Responsible approach
Create a goal that signals change and energizes the fight against the climate crisis.
For companies qualified and prepared to take decisive action on climate change, a redefined goal can demonstrate their level of responsibility and provide management with a tool for strategic change. It's about building discussions, changing perceptions and creating opportunities. For example, Neste, a Finnish company, whose reformulated goal reflects the transition from oil refining to the production of renewable fuels:
"Creating a healthier future for our children"
This goal is simultaneously global and concerns everyone, ambitious and unassuming. It depicts a real lean program - the production of renewable fuels - and commits the company to be responsible and progressive. Today, Neste is the 3rd most eco-conscious company in the world.
2. Taking Action
Change the product offering and supply chain.
The drive to save the climate needs to be backed by meaningful action that reflects the company's new purpose. As brand strategists, we can't always push for an operational strategy, but we can advise clients on new opportunities such as working in a circular economy. ABInBev, the world leader in brewing, has turned the fight against climate change into a business strategy that includes a transformed supply chain with a more sustainable approach to agriculture, water, renewable energy and recyclable packaging. As ABInBev explained this repositioning, “sustainability is not just part of our business, it is our business.”
Find and create profitable cooperation.
The fight against the climate crisis will only have an effect if we work together. Brand strategists will be able to identify a profitable partnership opportunity for clients that will increase the positive impact and validate their efforts to implement a sustainable approach to business. For example:
Hyundai Motor Group has joined forces with the worldwide Hydrogen Council to help build a clean energy infrastructure called the Hydrogen Society.
Unilever and JD Logistics are working together to develop sustainable supply chain solutions.
WWF and Sky have teamed up to develop new technologies and innovations to completely remove single-use plastic from the supply chain and prevent it from entering the world's oceans.
The World War Zero Campaign calls for alliances, not small divisions. More partner coalitions are brewing. Our task is to find them among NGOs, startups and even competitors - and purposefully put them at the table of strategic discussions.
Involve consumers and the public.
Some companies have the potential to set the motion. This happens when we combine the purpose of the company with the current social trend, which causes a powerful resonance in society. Patagonia, whose goal is "We're in business to save the planet," amplifies the impact of their actions with an entire platform. The brand directly engages consumers and the general public through Patagonia Action Works, a digital hub that connects individuals and environmental organizations.
On Black Friday 2019, Action Works invited people to "help the home planet" by donating to local environmental communities. Patagonia has promised to double that amount. It ended up raising $20 million in two weeks, demonstrating the growing power of responsibility + taking action + partnerships + dissemination.
Even if miracles don't happen, action will happen. Everyone can contribute. We can initiate change. It is no longer just about shaping perceptions or reducing eco-anxiety. If we, as brand strategists, help our clients get on the path to combating climate change, we have a good chance to make the world the way we want it to be.
Author: Joshua Englander.
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