Will we ever find an answer to that? It’s an egg-and-chicken problem. As a matter of fact, even at SBParis, that question remains tricky. Some products and services would for sure not exist had the consumers not bought them. But would consumers express the need for them, had the brands never existed in the first place?
When talking about sustainability, and the responsibility that comes with it, who are we to blame or to praise?
Influence as a basis
During a conference, Erin Meezan, CSO of Interface, explained that, in order to face the changes to come and to tackle the right issues around sustainability, companies must ask themselves:
- what they’re doing to act ;
- how they engage their teams in the process ;
- and how they influence change.
Influence is today a key word to understand change, behavior and habits. As Simon Sinek once stated, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.
As a company, pushing people to buy your why basically relies on a clear vision followed by massive communication and marketing. Influence often lies in the small details: it can be the piece of furniture that all of your friends bought and that you end up getting as well. Or the ad you saw on the street that made you want to go to the closest fast food around. Nonetheless it doesn’t necessarily have to be negative. Influence can have a positive impact, thanks to your neighbor that decided to grow his or her own food, or to that post you saw for a secondhand shop while you were about to buy some clothes.
However that influence needs to be right targeted. It needs to serve ecological, social and awareness purposes. In that sense, brands do play a major role in consumers’ behavior, whether it be positive or negative. Growing environmental concerns have shown to be a powerful tool for change: companies have been rethinking their products and processes for many years now. Though we could argue that it’s not going fast enough.
Brands & Consumers need to commit
Yet, as a consumer, getting rid of the question of sustainability by arguing that only brands are responsible for such a change is a lack of will. And as a brand, getting rid of it by arguing that consumers are the one expected to change is a lack of insight. We’re biting our own tail here.
In a conference given at SBParis, Dick Ivarsson, head of communication at Icebug, put emphasis on their strong commitment regarding climate action, stating that they went beyond what was asked of them in terms of sustainability.
An other exemple may be the Climate Action Research led by GlobeScan and IKEA, where it appeared that 90% of people felt concerned and ready to act to help fight climate change. What was IKEA’s answer to that ? Providing means to act, by creating more sustainable products and new experiences for customers, reinventing the way they purchase goods, furniture and services, and communicating more about their commitment as a brand. We’re not ther yet but it’s a start.
Better done than perfect, as the saying goes.
It doesn’t mean that brands and companies should wait on consumers to really take bold and tangible actions around sustainability, but the same applies for consumers themselves.
We’re at a point where playing ping-pong with the responsibility doesn’t make sense anymore: in order to go through a crisis you need to play hand in hand with your teammates if you want to succeed.
Let’s stop talking about how much time we have left or how much we’re ready and let’s act. Together.
And remember: we can’t blame ourselves for failing as long as we tried.