While Cop 27 continues the age-old debate over whether wealthier countries should pay climate change reparations to those most affected, it’s the brands that hold the real power to make immediate and meaningful change.
With hyper-engaged global audiences and ridiculously frequent consumer transactions, global brands have more power to effect change than governments struggling to get past “the talk,” seemingly bogged down by lobbyists and facing an increasingly frustrated public.
So why aren’t more brands doing more?
I’ve watched discussions over the years where big companies claim they can’t “leave consumers behind” and need to take “baby steps” on their journey to green and sustainable business.
Today, quite literally, speed is everything in business. And with few actions taken by international talk conferences like COP, this is even more true when it comes to brand impact on the planet.
Ironically, thanks to some of the world’s largest confectioners, consumers have grown to expect same-day purchases, food within 15 minutes, and every possible whim quickly indulged. However, many global brands are adamant in agitating for major overhauls of components, materials, packaging and energy use.
However, history – even recent history – proves that brands can make fundamental changes overnight (often, they end up growing their businesses as a result).
Just look at what happened to the UK beer industry when Anthony Symons Gooding turned Whitebread beer from bottles into cans overnight. Consumers couldn’t get enough of it. And the entire industry had to quickly follow suit. (Same thing happened with switching to beer).
So, when Yvon Chouinard announced that Patagonia made the land the sole shareholder,
By injecting all future profits into protecting Mother Earth, overnight the brand became even more sought after by consumers. Moreover, the brand has successfully navigated the 2022 crisis with stories running on a wide range of B2C and B2B media, mentioned endlessly on social media, it has been one of the few positive news stories that resonates this year. .
Today we need this kind of bold leadership from major global brands. Not another COP-out with over 35,000 people hopping in for a photo op, sponsored by the world’s leading plastic polluter for the fifth year in a row.
Brands have the opportunity to lead, and consumers are increasingly seeking climate leadership, so now is the time for brands to step out of the shadows and make game-changing decisions that deliver profits that are good for the planet and shareholders simultaneously.
Much like creativity in our industry outperforms the advertising average, there are acres of evidence proving that when a brand truly supports the planet, consumers support the brand and investor profits grow. The B Corps are celebrated as growing faster than non-B Corps and the UK is now home to over 1,000 28% in the last year. Consumers are quick to support brands that put their money where their mouths are.
For those who need a little more encouragement, just look to the likes of Sebastien Cope and François-Ghislaine Morellion—two sustainability consultants who got tired of the board’s appetite for greenwashing and went it alone to start their sustainable trainer brand, Veja, and sold more than that. 3 million pairs so far. Since they made the leap, we’ve seen TOM’s, allbirds, and other sustainable brands enter the market resulting in consumer demand that has forced the likes of Nike and Adidas to launch sustainable lines as well.
In short, the world cannot wait for reversible, “negotiable” and often “optional” global government alliances. As business leaders, we can’t wait for another disappointing COP. We know what we need to do to reduce climate change and the impact of brands on the world. Waiting will only cost us more in the long run, as the climate disrupts supply chains, causing shortages and widespread migration — none of which is conducive to a positive trade environment.
Nor can large companies justify their lack of progress on the need to see consumer demand first. As Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Without a doubt, we need more Yvon Chouinard to take more heroic action to suppress climate change, today. After all, it’s good for business, not to mention the planet.
Malcolm Poynton is Chief Global Communications Officer at Cheil Worldwide