Our economy, consumption and ways of life are in a state of upheaval: increasingly aware and eco-anxious people are seeking choices that are aligned with their values. This process is driven by climate change, but also by a new, more altruistic mode of individualism.
The philanthropic mentality is prevailing and can be seen in contexts where people and companies make their choices. Offering a product is not enough, and providing services is not enough – everything ties back to value decisions.
This new awareness and sense of urgency can be seen very clearly in many sectors. Retailers are establishing relationships with charities and nonprofits to foster impactful solutions to social, environmental, political and economic problems. The circular retail economy has also come to replace the classic reduce–reuse–recycle mantra. Product manufacturers are applying sustainability thinking to their whole business processes.
The battle for values is a politicized one: educated, science-based approaches are facing populism, misinformation and cynical efforts to maintain status quo, no matter the damage to our environment. In this arena of competing signals and information, consumers need clarity and avenues to make long-term changes for the better. Care for the environmental and societal impacts of our actions will be the key drivers for companies and consumers alike. This means that metrics for success are shifting, and capitalist values are questioned. The focus is turning to holistic long-term impact instead of quarterly short term gain.
16 Corporate compensation
The stakes of sustainability are rising: Beyond offering products and services with a side quest of reducing emissions, companies are looking to become energy positive or climate positive. Just recently, Laurence D. Fink, the founder and chief executive of the world’s largest asset management company BlackRock, announced that his firm would make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal.
Individual behavior is changing, as well; philanthropic consumption is gaining popularity as people are turning to products and services that go beyond providing the shopping rush. There is also a shift in employee attitudes, as people are increasingly looking to contribute positively through their work. This could be seen as a development where capitalism is fixing itself by adjusting to the widespread rise of new ethical values – sustainability promises have become a corporate race, but the ends justify the means.
Prada has signed a £42.9 million loan linked to sustainability: interest rates will be determined by how well the luxury brand meets sustainability goals in the upcoming years. Sustainability loans are a growing phenomenon, but Prada is the first luxury brand to sign one.
Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri is launching the CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge, an open initiative that calls for other CEOs to commit to sustainability. The initiative calls attention to the need for immediate actions in addition to committing to long-term sustainability goals.
Microsoft has stated that they want to be carbon negative by 2030 – this means they will remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they produce. But the company does not stop there, as it plans to eliminate the impact of all their emissions since the founding of the company in 1975. To this end, Microsoft are creating a $1 billion climate innovation fund that will find the necessary means.
17 Influenced choices
Our values affect purchasing choices, but can also act as a catalyst for systemic change. Frustration breeds passion, and we are shifting to a new, more collective and altruist mode of individualism. Post-petroleum, zero-waste and circular economy models are gaining momentum.
Burger King was among the first to offer rush-hour deliveries to people idling in their cars. Operating on voice commands, an app sends motorcycle messengers laden with Whopper meals to hungry prisoners of traffic. The delivery service, paired with ads along the freeway, seems like a cynical bid to capitalize on a congested world – and it is working. Burger King reported a 44 percent increase in app download and a 63 percent increase in daily delivery orders in Mexico City.
Working for free in the name of goodwill is on the rise as individuals in the UK are offering their services to those in need for free. A barber has deployed street teams to offer haircuts to the homeless, and a plumber started a community interest company to do plumbing for free, relying largely on crowdfunding, and a beautician is offering services to cancer patients. The driving force behind the three – care for other people.
Modern Meadow, an American startup, has developed a fabric that is made of collagen, the main structural ingredient in real leather – but grown from genetically engineered yeast. The company is looking to develop their ‘biofabricated leather material’ to have better qualities than actual leather and to slowly introduce the new fabric to wider markets.
18 Systemic reform
For individuals, trying to cope with the changes in our world can bring a sense of powerlessness. Behavioral changes are not enough to achieve resilience – our systems need to change at the corporate and national level. The ways we build cities or interact with natural resources are changing, and the flow of money is being redirected to incentivize systemic change.
Time is of the essence; as Saul Griffith described it, the “World War Zero” against climate change is raging, and to be able to meet the challenge head-on, we need a similar type of industrial rearrangement at a similar timescale as in the previous World War. As Griffith puts it, we need our national governments to declare a state of emergency.
An electricity company in northwestern England is doing the unexpected by lowering the voltage of their energy grid. As a result of lowering the voltage, household electricity bills are cut down by as much as £60 each month. Appliances will operate slightly slower, but not noticeably so, argues the company.
Lowering the voltage means environmental gains, as well: Electricity North West would save 143,860 tons of carbon by 2050 if they cut their emissions by 10%.The lower voltage could also make space for new, cleaner energy sources to be connected to the grid to produce cleaner energy.
By introducing new emission rules, the city of London has cut down emissions inside a central city zone by a third, according to city representatives. Called the Ultra Low Emission Zone, the area has strict restrictions on car emissions, enforced by fines. As the zone has proved very efficient in cleaning the air, it is to be expanded by 2021 to cover a larger area, and other major European cities are currently drafting their own rules.
The European Commission has ratified regulations that will compel companies to design longer-lasting products and provide spare parts to make repairs possible. Spare parts must be made available for 10 years after the purchase date. The effects are massive – along with better energy labelling, the regulations might reduce more than 46 million tons of CO2 yearly. The concept might also see the light of day in the US, where some 20 states are considering similar regulations.
- →How could you make the values driving your business choices more transparent and measurable?
- →Is your brand based on truth and authenticity? Does it stand up to scrutiny?
- →Who are our value authorities? Who drives ethical values in the future?
- →What values are transmitted in your actions as a company and how? Are they clearly visible?