There’s a serious problem in solving the climate crisis. Despite the countless emotive documentaries, quite frankly terrifying IPCC reports and the (lacklustre) global conferences, it still feels like business as usual. We might be slowly shifting into an environmental crisis mode but it’s not one that inspires fast, collective action – yet that’s exactly what’s needed.
I’ve been asking myself why that is, and I think it comes down to storytelling. The right story can change the world. I’ve written before about the power of language and sustainability, and it still feels like what we’re missing is a unifying, compelling narrative that we all want to be part of.
Consumers often get a bad reputation here but there’s so much complexity involved that it can be hard to know where to start. Often changing something for the better, like using less plastic, has a knock-on negative impact on something else (e.g. deforestation). Just when consumers get their head around refilling their shampoo bottle, they’re told to buy a shampoo bar to help reduce water consumption. New behaviours are needed all the time but fundamentally most consumers feel powerless and overwhelmed. Our recent ESG research reveals a consumer belief that individual actions don’t add up to much, resulting in a delegation of responsibility to brands and governments to lead change.
But let’s be clear it’s not just down to individuals to respond. The pace of change needed means it’s no longer enough to be neutral, corporations need to be having a net positive impact.
Over the last few years, brands have started to step up and recognise their responsibility to act. Many of our clients have bold aspirations in the sustainability space, from being the first net-positive pet food brand to making sustainable living commonplace. Yet interestingly many consumers still can’t call out specific initiatives and link them with brands.
So, what should brands do differently?
Here are 4 principles for more effective communication and enabling behaviour change. To be clear this is not a case for greenwashing: this is about bold communication for bold actions.
- Make it simple
There are so many buzzwords, symbols, and accreditations on-pack labels, but few consumers know what they mean. We learned this with Ecover – consumers still don’t know what they can and can’t recycle, and biodegradable versus compostable is a pit of confusion. If it’s not on pack how to easily dispose of something, then it’s not going to end up there! Perhaps, the next evolution of the carbon footprint label is a traffic light scoring system that allows consumers to rate items on shelves by their environmental and social impact.
- Make it easy
Convenience is king. Sustainability shouldn’t be a sacrifice and it doesn’t have to be more expensive. Take a leaf out of Who Gives A Crap’s book (or should I say sheet from their roll): their subscription model makes it super easy for consumers to have greener toilet paper on the doorstep. Similarly, Leo’s Box believes shopping sustainably shouldn’t be difficult and members can find vetted (and discounted) products quickly online. The easiest changes are the ones we don’t have to think too hard about.
- Make it differently
There’s increasing interest in how products are made, where ingredients are sourced, and how a company really operates. B Corps are businesses doing things differently: a positive force for good (think Ella’s Kitchen, Danone, Leo’s Box, COOK). With a very strict qualification process, it’s a status that companies are proud to achieve – yet few consumers know what it means. With over 4,600 B Corps around the world, it’s time to start talking: to clarify what the label means and why it matters. March just so happens to be B Corp month and the theme this year “Behind the B” is the perfect opportunity to share positive and empowering stories.
- Make it meaningful
Choose initiatives that connect to your brand purpose. There are so many social and environmental causes to get involved in that sometimes it’s not clear where to stop. Brands don’t need to be doing everything, but they do need to be doing something. Initiatives aligned to your brand’s purpose make the most sense, they’re memorable and they encourage consumers to draw closer and stand by a brand.
In clear communication and effective storytelling, we find our opportunity.
The climate crisis narrative has become all stick and no carrot: it’s time to change things up, to do an Aldi and take a different approach to cliched advert. If we spotlight the genuinely impactful positive initiatives happening daily around the world, then we give people hope and that’s a powerful enabler of change. It’s the outcome of new behaviours, the benefits, the small wins, that empower us to keep going and create clarity in an otherwise gloomy climate of crisis.