It's the end of the year, and with most years I look back and marvel how fast the year has gone. Twelve months is no time in most calendars, yet 2006 proved to be a remarkable success in raising awareness to the overall cultural shift to sustainability.
Sustainability – and more specifically environmental sustainability – has been getting a huge amount of coverage. Every major publication from Time to Wired, Fortune to Newsweek has run a cover story on global warming, and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth plus a mass of TV stations have done a good job of bringing the subject out and inviting most of to talk about what most of us were thinking.
The shift has moved beyond niche brands and earlier this year, two of the world's largest companies - Wal-Mart and General Electric - announced major environmental initiatives. Whether you consider the effort to be some fancy PR exercise or a genuine attempt to future-proof their business models, you can't deny that the announcements have forced the sustainable agenda in boardrooms all over the world.
2007 needs to build on this momentum.
From the work our firm, CI: Conscientious Innovation, has conducted for The SHIFT Report (2006) to better understand the relationship between consumers, brands and sustainability, we know that people want to be better consumers; they understand that the choice to buy - or not to buy - expresses approval – or disapproval – of a companies ethics, practices and standards; and most importantly, they understand that they need help to be better consumers.
The study uncovered The Four Barriers to Conscious Consumption™ - Time, Knowledge, Pressure and Price. How can we make better choices on a regular basis, if we don’t have the knowledge to discriminate between product A and product B? How can we acquire this knowledge, if we don’t have the time to do the necessary research? Where’s the incentive to pay for the socially responsible option, if we are only just understanding the broader definition of 'cost,' and consider the sticker price too much for our pocketbooks? Why engage with any of this, if the purchase is loaded with fear and learning more about what some companies are neglecting only leads to more stress?
These are definite challenges, but they are not insurmountable. If fact - the way we see it - they are more of an opportunity. Sustainability is on the very cusp of being mainstream and it will move ahead quickly. 2007 represents the opportunity for companies to demonstrate how the experience of their brand connects with our desire to lead as more sustainable life. They can do it now, or later when it becomes table stakes.
Jason McCormick is a principal at Ci: Conscientious Innovation, a strategic and creative marketing & innovation consultancy with expertise on the relationship between consumers, brands and sustainability.