Green consumers : big enough to enter your 'core' strategy?
"Tipping point" in sustainable jargon defines the moment in which climate change becomes self-alimenting / unstoppable. But a positive change in society is surfacing. Can companies stimulate its speed? Make it reach critical masses? Can we make people tip? We summarized a series of positive changes into 4 pillars to argue humanity is capable to tip things the other way.
Scientists have long gathered the facts, but we see knowledge isn't enough to bend human behavior. It needs some sexy marketing. As marketers, we want to focus our efforts on what we do best : accelerating the uptake of new beliefs & needs. Scale them from early adopters to the wider masses. At the Markitects, we believe that marketing (or 'Change Acceleration' to use less charged a term) has a role to play to make sustainable the new cool.
This positive list of shifts indicates to hesitant decision-makers that the movement is accelerating. A gentle italic call-to-action will appear at the bottom of each shift, an invite for propositive traction. Let's grow beyond the necessary 'anti'-movements of climate marches & tip into forward-thinking do's.
PILLAR I. CHANGE IS HERE
1. 100% awareness
The topic is unavoidable, the debate got plenty of headlines across all media. Be it passionate/desperate, factful /scientific, in a glamour fashion mag' or on fast news' TV shows. Each one with its tone and angle, but with more and more layers of coverage. With these, some type of shared knowledge of ‘a problem’ has emerged, whether you’re seeking information or not. The issue for us humans, as George Marshall puts it, is that information ain't sufficient to generate change. But still, marketers know that awareness is the key first step on the path to conversion.
Each of us can, with our intelligence, prolong this debate between the facts & the fake. Bear with your own climate-fatigue or your team's defense mechanisms to protect their comfort zone, and feed this awareness. Then, take this awareness to action-lists.
2. Very visible feedback puts us on red alert
Our problem is long term, uncertain and collective. Three aspects that the human individual has difficulty to fathom. We don't receive immediate feedback from our deviant habits, so where's the problem? If I eat a steak today, my heart doesn't stop ticking, it takes a few decades of steak-eating. But dangers becomes clearer & bigger, the Amazon & Australia are burning. French floods start to create casualties closer to home. The Guardian now suggests to use the term Climate Crisis instead of Climate change. Still, a series of catastrophes isn't enough to create an incentive to act, until we see the link with our daily behavior.
Can you translate far-away Australian fires into your concrete zone of control? Even if the fires aren't linked to your own supply chain, what can this new awareness enable you to decide in your circle of influence? Build links with the concrete, local, short term. It is by feeling this connection that people jump into action.
3. Climate became table-conversation at coffee breaks
Great stuff, it has become a subject! And it’s only a question of minutes or someone starts sharing his tips to go zero-waste, compost on his balcony or replace red meat by perfectly tasteful hummus. We love when that happens, as we absolutely need to be inspiring positive stories. We're betting that every time a friend brags about a great-tasting vegetarian recipe, you’re being inspired to reduce meat (1 meatless day is about the biggest impact individuals can have)!
Proactively share your experiments of new habits with peers. Inaction & silence are killers. Don't preach, don't attack, as it's normal that some are slower to integrate change than others (+ we've all flown to Barcelona for a city-trip, so don't throw that 1st stone). Just keep the conversation running with positive storytelling, show your new sustainable corporate vision is not only possible, but a real joy and talent-attractor.
4. Cognitive tension can turn into innovation
Our brains are in cognitive dissonance (that unconscious tension when what we know is too different vs. what we do) when it comes to acting carbon neutral. This tension, unbearable for our fragile nerves, makes us seek ways to diminish it. Either by changing what we do, either by polishing facts so much as to discredit or annihilate them. This dissonance is the reason why many criticize Greta as too aggressive, why we crack jokes about vegetarians or dismiss bikers as madmen in the rain : it is only by finding ways to reject these new behaviors that I can tolerate to continue living as before, as if nothing happens, as if the upcoming human extinction is pure science fiction.
Let's be humble and recognize our very human tendency to defend our current habits. Allow this shaky (creative?) phase to happen, even better, use it to let innovation enter & whack the team out of status quo. A crisis makes employees or citizens tolerate drastic shifts in strategy, so why not lead change & take initiative to address the needed transformations.
5. 'Why' turns into 'when'?
We all know now, short or long term, our species has to adapt. So the question isn't the skeptic 'why' or the change-averse 'if' anymore. It's a timing issue. What revolution is possible to invert the trends in time before 2030?
When will we twist our industrial-era-business-model off its trajectory to avoid it racing with a big noisy bang into the wall of climate induced extinction?
If 'when' is the question, let's jump in project-management-mode. We know how to do that well. Make a plan to go neutral by 2030 (Don't say 2050, that's just a politician's excuse to make it so far that they can tolerate inaction today). Go to the mattresses.
PILLAR II. GATHERING SPEED
6. There's a link between climate & my daily acts
We’ve understood we’ve gone too far, that our habitual comforts are working against our own good. Less plastic is better for oceans. Eating less industrial stuff actually tastes better. SUVs pollute 15% more than normal cars. Going to fetch real vegetables at local organic farmers is giving more satisfaction than ordering plastic-wrapped pre-cut stuff online, sourced from who-knows-where, kept fresh with nitrogen gas & brought to our lazy front door with a diesel-run minivan from another country 300 km away. We get that now.
Educate, educate, educate. Keep building links. We cannot assume everyone understands the direct & indirect CO² impacts of every step in your value chain. Educate, not in a boring way, but in a sexy, positive & inspiring way. Make it personally identifiable, catered to your audience. If you're talking to the CFO, spin it with some ROI, if it's HR, talk employer branding, etc.
7. As noise increases, brands start to listen
When Unilever’s new CEO announced he wanted an impact-scrutiny of its 400 brands, he declared the group ready to let go unsustainable (or impossible to render sustainable) products. These are new crossroads. We've gone past the idealistic activists starting a local organic veg'-garden. Global corporations question themselves & engage in the battle. Even in the US, 200 CEOs requested to consider more than just shareholders in their decisions. In Belgium, CEOs requested for a climate law to regulate themselves. When leaders ask more regulation, that’s a very clear signal. There’s a new game and it requires new rules.
Don't wait or expect 100% converted green customers.
Take the lead & nudge'm before they ask you to.
Take the initiative. Motives of consumers will not become 100% idealist, but a growing portion is already doing it for the badge-value, for the hip fashionability to be seen with eco-products. As a brand, act fast & you'll be edgy. Good news for marketers however : the window of opportunity to position your green efforts as a point-of-difference is wide open. Be among the first in your industry, and you’ll be differentiating. If one waits for government to edit laws to become interested, one loses that advantage... It’ll be seen by customers as just another check-the-box-compliance. In short, until a CO2 pricetag punishes the polluter, there's a window for early adopter engagement.
8. Attack the core
Most businesses have already gone 'cosmetic' : they modified some outer layers most prone to criticism (or, what was financially interesting to reduce i.e. their energy bills). But past are the days of CSR limiting a company's impact, spindoctoring business-as-usual, hiring a CSR manager to make things look acceptable or offset them to claim carbon-neutrality... "Organizations have the obligation to drive growth in tandem with positive environmental outcomes," writes Ellyn Shook, Chief HR Officer from Accenture.
Sustainable becomes strategic.If you don't integrate it in each department, it is seen as cosmetic.
Check out purpose-led brands, they can inspire more traditional players. They dare to modify their ‘core’ business. Indeed if one wants to be credible, and avoid the ever more frequent greenwashing suspicion, change must be transversal : every level of the companies' offer needs questioning.
9. Talents flee polluting industries
Talent and especially young talent now refuses employment in polluting business models or reckless companies. They prefer employers they share values with. And burn-outs are another symptom that this (un)human race for globalized efficiency ain’t the ideal solution anymore.
Communicate about your roadmap to a new normal. Prove to non-employees (and employees alike) that your company is on its road to sustainable perfection. And obviously, go beyond the engagement, start with concrete projects and actions to earn credibility.
10. Welcome to cumulative inertia
Many reject personal responsibility by shifting the hot potato-blame: politicians have to change / companies are the big polluters / consumers don't want to change...
But when individuals act as a group, and that group grows double digit, the sum becomes collective transition to a new era.
Hence the importance for each of us to play his/her part and help craft what is seen as "what people want" by politicians and CEOs. Let us as customers coherently send out the same message, day after day. We can't pretend we want to reduce our footprint, if we fly every week for business. Some people argue : 1 person will not make a difference. Well, if 10/20/100 people ask for electric cars or ebike-leasing plans, HR will start to notice.
11. When peers are changing...
People’s attitudes are belief systems constructed through social interactions within peer groups. We need to be inspired by our colleagues, friends or family. They exert much more power than some anonymous IPCC reports from a bunch of ivory-tower scientists. Studies show that if prosocial behavior is seen by others, it stimulates more prosocial behavior. Unless… it’s done by too little people (then it’s labelled as ‘uncool’ and seen like the odd black duck). 2020 needs more friends & colleagues going public about their individual change path!
Be a stimulating peer. It takes vision to acknowledge priorities beyond profit & integrate #SDG12 (sustainable production and consumption) in decisions, bravery to question comfortable status quo, transparency & humbleness to dare talking about an issue when you know your company isn't perfect yet.
PILLAR III. NEW NORMAL IS GOOD
12. Eco-alternatives don't mean losing comfort
Great storytelling has to help people understand that we don’t have to stop all our worldly pleasures. It's too easy to label any habit change as "going back to the age of stone". Including a millisecond of thought into decisions to include new choice criteria isn't the same as giving up on your basic needs : Is it local? Does this purchase imply a lot of one-way packaging? Do I really need to cross the ocean for a 2-hour meeting or is skype possible? Do I order this online now, or can I wait till I pass the store on my way home?
Sustainable behavior is also about retrieving a kind of peace freed from immoderate thoughtless/easy/clicking consumerism. Yes, flying has been made cheap & instantly bookable. But what are you really looking for when you hop away for a WE: Adventure? Culture? Time together?
Take the train 50 km in your own country, we're sure you'll tick off all of those needs, and your teenagers will thank you for it.Allow yourself to question the needs behind automatic choices. #hurryhurry is not an excuse for planet-destruction, our grand-children will not accept that answer. Create that pause, embed "impact" into every decision.
13. AND AND is possible
Natural cleaning products that actually clean better. Sugarless sodas with great taste. Slave-free chocolates that are affordable. Fast & sleek e-bikes. Vegan shoes. Biodegradable packaging, etc.
Innovation is slowly solving paradoxes. AND performing AND sustainable becomes possible.
Yet, don't get us wrong, innovation cannot be the excuse to continue ruthless polluting behavior (we haven't solved everything yet). And frankly, all these new more human/local/ green choices are making us happier. So even if we might invent technologies to absorb 10x our CO² within the next 2 years, these new green approaches will not be a move in the wrong direction.
A beautiful task is on our desk, marketers! A challenge to market these innovations asap to the masses. These innovative alternatives cannot survive on niche markets of idealists' only. And the task ain't easy, as hybrid positionings aren't always intuitive to understand or simple to explain in a 6-word-billboard.
14. Definition of cool = changing
We sense a time, and 2020 might be that time, where it becomes cooler to own a Cowboy (Belgian startup that builds smart / minimalist / high-tech / urban male / sleek-design electric bicycles) than a big polluting SUV? When sustainable behavior becomes the new cool, this signifies the social “normal” has evolved and masses will quickly copy that new norm.
Make sustainable aspirational. Don't sell it as something people have to give up (e.g. less meat, fly less etc). Use proven marketing-codes to make CO² neutral purchases as sexy & desirable as possible.
15. The gap to reach 100% sustainable saliva-dripping?!
Sociology tells us that if 25% of a group is reached, contagion makes sure we quickly reach 100%. According to Extinction Rebellion, mobilizing 3.5% (aka “early adopters”) of the population will achieve system change as the big/slower/more indifferent mass follows automatically, as for any innovation uptake.
Nudge the masses using Social proof / pressure : stimulate the copycat masses by making it visible that a lot of people changed already. If 10.000 people switched & loved veggie burgers, the rest will be less risk-resistant and be tempted to try for themselves too.
PILLAR IV. ROOM FOR ACCELERATION
16. Every act is a vote
Many people hesitate to modify their everyday behavior as they have the "perceived incapacity to change" . What's the use, if big companies still keep polluting? However we're creatures of conformity, if many people start doing different, others may wonder why & follow suit. Flygskam in Sweden has started labelling frequent flying as the “most expensive suicide in world history" and created a facebook page. Flights dropped by 9% in a year. Twice as many Swedish people chose the train in summer 2019. In Brussels, a recent study showed that the car lost its majority, 'only' 46% of trips in the city are still done by car. Walking, biking and public transport does the rest.
It's the power of the numbers: every choice, every purchase is a vote. Let it be at least a considered vote. Let's stop thoughtless choices, driven by social pressure, time or just habit. It’s absurd to see us throwing away humanity’s survival just because of habit... Let us make this a 'tipping' year in which people think again : avoid automatic purchases & cast your vote.
Companies' task is to enable behavioral change by fluidifying choice, by reducing entry barriers to eco-friendly options. Cancel any friction in order to make it super-easy to opt for sustainable choices. Choice architecture your purchase funnel to requires less personal motivation...One cannot count on idealism alone.
17. VIP's Visible Efforts
Visibility is key to trigger contagion. If the ipod's earplugs hadn't been white, none of your friends would have asked what was this cool new thing in your pocket. I fore one, now decided to proudly showcase my foldable bike every day next to my desk. Visibility triggers many more questions (& hopefully attitudinal changes) than any bike hidden in the parking lot. When invited for dinner, I mention upfront I became vegetarian, as it might spark a host's quest for veggie alternatives in their recipe books. And unavoidably, the topic will then pop up during dinner, giving the space to explain that yes, it's possible to survive on plant-based diets. But that's just 1 person. Imagine having 2 millions followers!
A message to all top athletes, artists, VIPs, CEOs of this world: mention your efforts. Talk! If Djokovic can be nr 1 tennis player being vegetarian, it shows it's not only possible but desirable. Let's make these pioneers visibly sustainable. Humans move in herds, the weight of the masses will follow its inspirational heroes.
Walking the words When a CEO not only makes big engagements but cycles to his office & closes the garage on Earth Day, the PR is amazing (and hence social proof & stimulation). Every act is an indirect message. Coherence however is key to believability. One can't seriously fly to COP meetings anymore (skype does wonders & very socially accepted).
If one begins to see more & more hipster CEOs hopping on their daily bike, this will motivate change much more quickly. Acts speak a thousand words. "Be the change..."
18. Reinforce positive behavior
People are often hesitant when starting new habits, they need encouragement. When a restaurant offers a veggie alternative, let's compliment them, positive feedback gives them the desire to do more of the same.
Every purchase is not only a vote,
it's a reward to the company producing it.
Companies need to simplify access and lead by increasing the offer of sustainable alternatives : If 'en masse' we, as consumers, choose eco-friendly options, we'll make them more abundant (and cheaper, by economies of scale).
19. From Greta's needed "ANTI" into collective "PRO"
Angry activists' radical tone has a role, it helped to raise the topic. But it may also increase people's inertia as they feel attacked. We believe in the good/bad cop approach : The "bad cop" has woken up its unknowing/sleepy audience with aggressive, loud marches and accusations. He uses drama with his passionate angry tone and is very useful to "create the problem". He sets the stage for "good cops" to rise, act sympathetically, appear supportive with solutions, lead with empathy towards a common goal.
If Greta played 'bad cop' to create a sense of urgency, now let the good cops appear on stage! Companies with solutions, sustainable products & services, grassroots citizen-led initiatives, positive local alternatives... Masses like to dream. So INSPIRE us, tell us stories to show that a greener lifestyle is possible and yields better quality of life, healthier, more fun, less stress.... Make people aspire for a carbon-neutral life.
20. Catch the change
It's all around us. Look at home, at your teen kids, competitors, streets. Thousands, millions of people are daring to shake their status quo. Be it small or big, the world has started to question its (bad) manners.
It's time to kick off positive journalism at reckless business speed: spot early adopters, analyze what works & roll it out in your category. Be the first to use it to differentiate, to catch new targets or retain your loyalists. It's a question of time, and you'll become irrelevant if you don't.
To avoid abusing from your reading patience, we'll stop at the obvious '20' this year, but will ask you one thing : Will you add an accelerator to the list (below in the comments)? What do you see, in terms of business / politics / individual behavior that are signs of acceleration, that can help us achieve green masses?
Welcoming the debate & happy tipping 20's !