It feels like there hasn’t been a single week so far this year where a story about sustainability hasn’t been in the mainstream media headlines.
Since Blue Planet II aired at the end of last year and public attention turned to plastic pollution, it finally feels like the world is waking up.
These are issues that some ethical consumers and organisations have been talking about for a long time and for campaigners the proposed changes have been a long time coming – but just this week Waitrose have said they will phase out single use coffee cups, Iceland have pledged to cut palm oil from their own brand products. Reports also show that Dairy firms across the UK have seen a surge in demand for milk in glass bottles since the start of 2018.
So why are these changes happening now?
It’s because there’s been a shift in public consciousness and the global community has demanded change.
In his book and TED talk, marketing expert Seth Godin talks about how, now more than ever, we have the opportunity to create and lead tribes and use these communities to make positive change happen.
Humans are herd animals and we stick together for safety. There’s a reason why trends take off and movements happen – doing what everyone else is doing appeals to our most basic instinct. There’s safety in numbers.
It also feels good to be part of something. In a world where information travels faster than ever and social media leads us into the comparison trap, it’s never been easier to start a trend or bring people together to form a tribe.
Previously environmentalism was seen as an ‘outsider activity’, full of negative stereotypes. However with supporters and advocates coming forward from academia (At the end of 2017, 15,000 scientists from around the world issued a “warning to humanity” that our time is running out to tackle climate change), high profile figures in society (like the Queen banning plastic on the royal estates), cultural icons (Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Watson) and national treasures (Sir David Attenborough) to raise awareness of the issues and encourage us to change our ways, the movement got what every successful tribe needs – leaders.
Newspapers and the media publish stories that the masses want to hear about, so as these issues got more public attention it created a snowball effect. More media coverage encouraged more people to join the movement, creating a cycle of coverage and participation that has made the debate mainstream, and where consumer interest goes, corporate behaviour and political reaction will ultimately follow.
Consumer behaviour, policy, legislation and corporate action are all crucial elements towards more sustainable change – but it can often be a chicken and egg situation. Government policy is heavily influenced by corporate power, and corporate power won’t change until it becomes profitable – a decision which is driven by consumer behaviour. However, to influence consumer behaviour en masse you often need policy to encourage it (there has been an 85% reduction in use of single use plastic bags in the UK since the 5p levy was introduced in 2015). So where do we start?
Conscious consumers and businesses need to form communities and use their platforms collectively to encourage the debate, inspire others and call for change.
Small, everyday ethical choices, although important, are not enough to influence change on their own. Global issues require systematic change, and that will only happen when a collective voice demands it and cross sections of society work together to make it happen. Under the supply and demand structure of Capitalism, the consumer must act first.
This week’s headlines show that when enough consumer demand is there and an issue is high profile enough, businesses will act.
Collectively we can raise our shared voice to show what matters, call for change and demand better. There’s strength in numbers and together we can use that strength for good.