Back at the turn of the century, and indeed a fair step into it, there was a phrase: ‘green washing’. It was uttered, cynically, with scant regard. Boardrooms accepted its practice, reluctantly, as ‘good’ body language.
To green or good wash, was to frame a brand on the basis of borrowed interest from some adjacent climate mission or rock star personality - to pretend that the powers that be, gave a shit. And cared as much about people and planet, as they did profit.
The notion of sustainable growth, twenty years ago, was seen as niche economics by mainstream governance. Indeed, current US and Australian governments might consider it still the case.
As time has shown, the ravaging effects of capitalism addicted to the twin drug of profit and unsustainable markets - cue the climate emergency we now find ourselves amidst - highlight the imperative for sustainable business models the world over, as well as a sustainable global economy.
And yet, there remains a lack of concrete definition - and therefore concrete understanding - of sustainable business.
Today, and to be clear, I’d suggest that sustainable growth means growth that is repeatable, ethical and responsible to, and for, current and future communities.
Can I be clearer still?
You can’t keep tapping up a finite resource. The maths – or math, for ourAustralian readers - doesn’t work. No matter how addictive the sum.
Here, now, economic growth and environmental sustainability have to become close siblings, not distant, spatting, spiteful cousins.
Is there one thing to nudge us in the right direction, whilst the facts speak for themselves, published here: https://www.hindustantimes.com/world/earth-day-ten-facts-that-prove-our-planet-is-dying-a-slow-death/story-Y7lkdPzZmxQHMxfUb9ohoI.html?
Well, if every boardroom in Australia watchedDavid Attenborough’s ‘last will and testament’ documentary on Netflix, we might stand a chance. A trite ask. But, at least one step in a greener direction.
2020 might feel like some dystopian farce. Possibly, we are far too used to dystopian science fiction movies, for the emergency of ‘now’ to hit home. And yet, for the first time, our extinction is a potential, nay probable, fact.
Do I sound anxious and unreasonably panicked?
Well, fuck you.
In the mid 1990s - when the notion of a triple bottom line was first introduced: good for people, plant and profit - I was part of a research program across the UK. One that looked into the interest and impact of what we then dubbed, brand citizenship. Our client was a beleaguered Lloyds Bank - long before its modern-day double jeopardy streak.
We reported that consumers - across ages, life stage and class - cited citizenship as something that was a nice to have; but wouldn’t impact their choice of brand. And, whilst they anticipated a degree of philanthropy from the likes of brands such as Lloyds - what mattered more was their competitive edge for the benefit of the customer. Less their ‘goodness’,or even their customer service. We detected a culture of social narcissism -‘What’s good for me, is good for my neighbour.’ We believed we were experiencing a doomed legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s vision for a ‘modern’ Britain.
Fast forward to now - as narcissism, ironically, is the foundation of right-wing populism - the notion of transparency, ethical practice and sustainable business practice - in other words the polar opposite –has become a potent consumer incentive. In some studies, there is almost universal agreement (from under 35s) that these bases are essential. Especially in a world where governments are seen to be dragging their feet. And trust in institutions is at an all-time low.
John Grant writes about a need for modern marketing to pull its finger out and take the climate emergency seriously. His book, Greener Marketing, published this year, is a must read for all of us who work inside and outside of marketing. A sincere (not cynical)approach to sustainable initiatives is good for business, he evidences. It grows brand value, exponentially, as well as diminishing the likelihood of our own extinction. Go John.
2021 beckons. And I hope for a world whereAmerica - to paraphrase Joe Biden - is a beacon for the globe, and leads not by the example of its power, but by the power of its example. We need America’s economy to pick up this sustainable thread. Now, more than ever. To highlight its mainstream status and make sustainability (in its broadest sense) the next paradigm mainstream marketing embraces. So that when we reference that overused go to list of brand royalty – Google, Apple, Facebook et al - we cite for reasons of sustainable vision.
And if that sounds too obvious, too fawning or too Yankee-doodle-do, then pray tell another way this hamstrung world is going to fix its home.
Words by Carl Ratcliff.