Sustainability
Image Source: Matthias Ripp
Leo Rayman

Businesses have a sustainability issue that won’t solve itself...

When it comes to climate change and sustainability, consumer marketing can feel like part of the problem. But actually, we must be part of the solution. The one thing we really do well - creating demand that changes behaviour – is just what the sustainability movement needs.

It’s a big and scary problem, no wonder we prefer to ignore it. We’re conflicted, we recycle plastic before refuse collection day. Then we buy fast fashion for Saturday night’s party. People want to change but find it hard to make the necessary trade-offs. As a society we ALL need to contribute and help make the right behaviour the default option. Because this isn’t going away. And while Extinction Rebellion is non-violent today. Tomorrow’s movements may not be.

We need to reboot the way we think about sustainability. It’s not about making normal products green. It’s about making green products normal. For example, don’t sell biscuits because they’re sustainable. Sell sustainable biscuits because they’re the yummiest. There are lots of other examples where sustainable options are now the more sexy option i.e. Tesla and its ‘Ludicrous Acceleration’ driving mode!

Making sustainability a profitable business model

What if we stopped talking about ‘Consumers’? What if we stopped defining people by their consumption? What if we called people ‘Re-users’ instead? What if we reframed consumer insight and consumer marketing as re-user insight and re-user marketing? We’d immediately think differently about how we design, distribute and regenerate products and services. We need to go deeper, gain more empathy for the people we want to buy products and services. What if waste was a design flaw?

The elephant in the room is Money. For every $1 spent 0.3gms of carbon gets released. So we need that spending to be directed into carbon neutral products (at worst) and regenerative products at best (i.e. things that make the world better rather than just removing the bad stuff).

If buying sustainable products costs more, it will never scale. Much of the world’s population can barely get by as it is. To offer sustainable options we need to think about the fundamental assumptions of how we bring products to market and what we do with them after their (first) consumption.

A whole way of thinking

We must use technology to our advantage. Rather than tech making a toxic system go faster, how can we use machine learning to spot waste patterns? How can selling products through Amazon remove the need for unsustainable packaging designed for a world of physical shelves?

It’s a lot to think about but by breaking down the problem with a comprehensive framework you can identify where you stand and where you need to improve. It helps you prioritise your efforts.

Climate change and sustainability is ‘the mother of all complex systems’. We can only resolve it then by working collectively to create systemic change. That means working with new kinds of partners, it means working with people you used to compete with. It’s a cultural shift we need to embrace.

To succeed we need a Wholebrain approach. One that brings together very different points of view on an equal basis because one thing is sure, groupthink on this knotty problem is NOT helpful. None of us can solve this alone… so let’s get together, who’s in?

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