If you’re reading this then it’s safe to assume you are familiar with the global ecological and societal debt that currently accompanies the more familiar economic one. So, no need to remind you that planet Earth will probably make its way through this crisis — it just isn’t clear that we will.
We’ve known for a while that we’re in a bit of a tight spot, and business and brands have responded. Sustainability and sustainable development are no longer terms muttered by that funny department that does weird stuff that no one really understands and isn’t that important anyway. Sustainability is now accepted as a key driver of value creation in many of the world’s leading businesses because the business case for sustainability has never been clearer. Even investors are beginning to understand that issues such as climate change can present significant value at risk for multiple businesses in multiple sectors.
So why are we so far from sustainability issues being mainstreamed in wider society? Despite the efforts of multiple, often iconic, brands and multiple, award-winning businesses, the percentage of consumers in most developed economies around the world who actively consider environmental and social issues in their purchasing decisions has remained unchanged for the last few years (at between 8–12%), and in some economies, has even decreased.
For one simple reason: We live in an interconnected and complex system, where there is no silver bullet for societal shifts — such as the one where sustainability issues becomes mainstreamed into wider civil society. Significant change happens when deliberate and multiple interventions are made.
Driving Sustainable Behaviors From Store to Home
Hear more from Petco's Francesca Mahoney on the pivotal role retailers and store locations play in catalyzing sustainable consumer behaviors — Tuesday, Oct. 17 at SB'23 San Diego.
Let’s start with the deliberate bit. At Forum for the Future, we have our own change model — the Six Steps to Significant Change. Step 1 on the change journey is experiencing the need for change; Step 2 involves diagnosing the system (where are the sensible points of intervention?); Step 3 is all about creating pioneering practice; Step 4 is creating tipping points; 5 involves sustaining the transition; and Step 6 is setting the new rules of the mainstream.
Brands are great at many things but, with a few notable exceptions, are not great at understanding how change happens. There is no way that even the cleverest behaviour change campaign will work if the target audience has not yet experienced the need for change. That’s why the first step towards behaviour change has to be awareness-raising, using stories to create an emotional connection between a person and an issue.
Now onto the multiple bit. Even if a brand has managed to help its target audience experience the need for change (which for some brands could be millions of people; brands have scale, for sure), has worked out what to do next and is running some experiments — creating a tipping point, not to mention sustaining it, is beyond the reach of one brand alone. Why?Because to move from pioneering practice to tipping point and beyond usually requires system innovation, a set of actions that shift a system — a city, sector or economy — on to a more sustainable path. This means getting serious about collaboration, and also means action for business, government and wider civil society.
Behaviour change is key to shifting the system around us onto a sustainable path, but for many brands it remains the holy grail, or a wistful look in the eye of the CMO. For others it is a must-have, as dealing with the massive use-phase impacts of product use won’t happen without it.
I’m thrilled to introduce this Issue in Focus on Behaviour Change along with Suzanne Shelton of the Shelton Group. We will present some great case studies, some great insights, and practical tips to unleash the magic of your brand to create meaningful change. But remember two words — deliberate and multiple. Only deliberate interventions, based on a change model — and multiple ones, based on new collaborations — will create the behaviour change needed to deliver system change. And, right now, no other change will do.