How dare you.
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.Greta Thunberg
How dare we?
Even as ecosystems collapse, climate change exacerbates refugee crisis and our survival becomes more and more precarious, we continue to go on with our business as usual. We tell ourselves that it’s someone else’s job. We tell ourselves that market will correct itself. But will it really? Do brands & brand-creators really have no role to play in the fast approaching tragedy of climate change?
Brands alleviated the pain of the Sisyphean tragedy of modern capitalism. Brands taught the world how to want. Brands gave the notion of free will and choices when it comes to consumption. It made the powerless feel powerful – that their choices, their consumption mattered. The consumptive soma that advertising created, filled the world with euphoria, making people forget about the differences that divided them, for a while. The promise of abundance, growth, prosperity united the world in a beautiful hope.
Essentially, brands created the over-consumptive world that is now hurtling down towards climate catastrophe. If brands, collectively, had a role to play in getting us to where we are, we surely can find ourselves a role in the new world. We can be one of the guardians of humanity in the new epoch of reckoning with the abundance-without-consequence era. We must.
Gradually and then suddenly
We humans are reasonably capable of imagining future worlds, of estimating the possible shape of things to come. Climate change won’t come as a surprise to many. However, what we positively suck at, is estimating the speed with which we rush headlong into the future. No matter how well we might estimate the future, we always arrive there surprised.
Most Brands too would find themselves unprepared to cater to a world that has suddenly shifted on its consumptive axis. Climate change awareness is increasing rapidly. Corporates and brands need to catch with the rest of the global population.
To ensure that brands don’t fall through the cracks when the chasm of climate-change-consciousness opens, we need to start charting a course for our brands for that future, right now. Like a stock exchange, where it is nearly impossible to gauge when a stock’s price will bottom out/ max out, it is just as impossible to predict when the cultural tipping point regarding climate change would pass.
Climate change will become an all-encompassing social reality sooner than later and there’s no time better than now to start working towards it.
Brands in Good faith
The problem with fighting an amorphous, all-encompassing situation is its overwhelming nature. There are no ready answers. There isn’t even a complete appreciation of the problem. At the first instant when humanity confronts reality of climate change, our faces are painted with shades of bafflement and our spirits shrink rapidly with the recognition of what we have collectively done.
Our instinct tells us to deny, to dust the awesome, under the carpet.
But the time has come for each one of us to be bigger than that: To muster the courage to see the situation as it is, to feel helpless along with others and to seek out help and help each other out.
Time has come for brands too, to examine the world it created, in good faith and be prepared to change RADICALLY: By seeking help, by collaborating with other organisations.
Climate change poses an existential risk. And as such, every organisation, every individual must be a soldier in the fight against our own extinction. It is not a fight that one can opt out of.
The primary ‘purpose’ of every organisation in 21st century must be to help humanity survive and thrive as climate change’s impacts become more and more apparent.
A comprehensive awareness of our brand’s impact on the world is critically needed, the assessment of which, must be done in good faith.
4 Principles of Building Brands in the Climate Change Epoch
Prof. Jem Bendell’s paper, ‘Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy’ has been deeply inspirational to me. I have used his Resilience, Relinquishment, Restoration framework to inform the four principles of brand building in climate change epoch.
We, the brand-builders and brand owners, must ask ourselves,
- Does our brand’s existence harm anyone in anyway? If yes, how can we change?
- How do we help people overcome emerging challenges?
- How much are we willing to give up in the interest of humanity’s survival? How do we plan to relinquish things that might make matters worse?
- What in our world can we help restore and strengthen against the coming dangers of climate change?
1. Does our existence harm anyone?
A brand might be fighting against patriarchal standards of beauty, but if its packaging ends up clogging world’s oceans, the net impact is negative, isn’t it?
The time where brands could externalise environmental costs is over. As climate change consciousness takes hold, a brand would be forced to reckon with every decision it takes, every act it perpetrates. ‘Eternal vigilance’ will be the price of humanity’s survival.
2. How do we help people overcome emerging challenges?
A consumer’s need is a market opportunity. With climate change, there will be newer opportunities for brands to cater to. However, unlike 20th century, where profit motive and shareholder returns were the Raison D’être of corporate (and hence brands) existence; 21st century brands cannot afford to be sociopathic. Profit must be balanced against ensuring equitable access. As economic inequality increases, brands that profiteer are bound to tip the world towards violence and anarchy.
3. How much are we willing to give up in the interest of humanity’s survival? How do we plan to relinquish things that might make matters worse?
Going forward, relinquishment would be an integral part of our way of life. We can’t have it all. Science tells us that there are limits to resource exploitation and their rate of renewal.
This impacts the fundamental aspect of capitalist economies: competition. Competition can’t externalise its cost anymore. Competition can’t run unchecked.
Industries and brands would need to compete in a new scenario where the most aggressive player gets kicked out. Sportsmanship, if not exhibited, will be enforced soon enough with regulations.
In this scenario, brands must be willing to relinquish things that might give them an advantage but are detrimental to people. Can brands relinquish profit margins that affect access to critical medicines for climate affected refugees? Can a fast food brand relinquish its star of the menu – beef burgers – to reduce methane emissions? Can an electric motor company relinquish its IP and help accelerate adoption of green tech?
Some brands are already doing the right thing. Consider Tesla and its open sourcing of IP for its electric car designs and Neuralink.
4. What in our world can we help restore and strengthen against the coming dangers of climate change?
Would you want your children to grow up in a world where lakes don’t exist, where urban birds are extinct, where traditional dances and festivals have been confined to documentaries?
Over the last few centuries, we have been losing much of humanity’s treasure trove of indigenous knowledge systems and cultural practices. Embedded in these knowledge systems are secrets to ways of living in harmony with the world, ways of appreciating beauty, methods to survive with natural world.
Brands can find purpose in helping restore some of these. Restore a lake, restore a cultural practice, restore a community’s way of life.
The world is too beautiful and wondrous to give up on. It’s time for brands to engage in good faith with the world. It’s time for brands to help humanity thrive as climate change accelerates.
I would be happy to work with brands in this journey.