As COP 27 continues the age-old debate over whether wealthier countries should pay climate compensation to those most affected, it is brands that have the real power to bring about immediate and meaningful change.
With highly engaged global audiences and ridiculously frequent consumer transactions, global brands have more ability to effect change than governments struggling to move beyond “talking,” seemingly being harassed by lobbyists and doing more. in addition to a disillusioned population.
So why aren’t more brands doing more?
I’ve witnessed discussions over the years where big business says they can’t afford to “leave consumers behind” and that they need to take “small steps” on the path to a green business. and sustainable.
Today, in every way, speed is everything in business. And due to the lack of action from international talk fests like COP, that’s even more true when it comes to a brand’s impact on the planet.
Ironically, thanks to some of the world’s biggest polluters, consumers expect their purchases to be delivered the same day, food within 15 minutes, and every possible whim catered to quickly. Yet many global brands are chilling to initiate major overhauls to ingredients, materials, packaging and energy consumption.
However, history – even recent history – proves that brands can make fundamental changes overnight (more often than not, end up growing their business as a result).
Just look at what happened to the beer industry in the UK when, overnight, Anthony Simmons-Gooding took Whitbread beer from bottles to cans. Consumers couldn’t get enough. And the whole industry had to follow, quickly. (The same thing happened with the switch to lager.)
So when Yvon Chouinard announced that Patagonia had made Earth its sole shareholder,
Injecting all future profits into protecting Mother Earth, overnight the brand has become even more sought after by consumers. Additionally, the brand weathered the polycrisis of 2022 with stories spreading across a wide range of B2C and B2B media, endless mentions on social media, it was one of the few positive news stories to resonate this year.
It’s that kind of bold leadership from big global brands that we need today. Not another COP-out conference with more than 35,000 people rushing for a photo op, sponsored by the world’s top plastic polluter for the fifth consecutive year.
Brands have the opportunity to lead, and consumers are increasingly looking for climate leadership. So now is the time for brands to step out of the shadows and make game-changing decisions that generate appropriate benefits for both the planet and shareholders.
Much like creativity in our industry outpacing average advertising, there’s tons of evidence that proves when a brand truly supports the planet, consumers support the brand, and investor profits rise. B Corps are said to grow faster than non-B Corps and the UK now has over 1,000 people. 28% in the past year. Consumers are quickly turning to brands that put their money where they say it does.
For those who need a little more encouragement, just turn to Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion – two sustainability consultants who have grown weary of boardroom appetites for greenwashing and went it alone to launch sustainable sneaker brand, Veja and have sold over 3 million pairs to date. Since taking the plunge, we’ve seen TOM’s, allbirds and other sustainable brands enter the market, driving consumer demand that has forced Nike and Adidas to launch sustainable lines as well.
In short, the world cannot wait for reversible, “negotiable” and often “optional” global governmental alignments. As business leaders, we can’t wait for another disappointing COP. We know what we need to do to reduce climate change and the impact brands have on the world. Waiting will only cost us more in the long run, as the climate disrupts supply chains, causes shortages and large-scale migration – none of this creates a positive business environment.
Nor can big business excuse their lack of progress on the need to see consumer demand first. As Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Without a doubt, we need more heroic gestures from Yvon Chouinard to fight climate change today. After all, it’s good for business, not to mention the planet.
Malcolm Poynton is Global CCO at Cheil Worldwide
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