Guillaume De vesvrotte and Tom Szaky
Published 4 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: Unilever's new Love, Home and Planet line of cleaning products is part of TerraCycle's Loop platform | Loop
To answer the call of this climate emergency, we need business to shift from being ‘less negative’ to being ‘for good,’ and to redefine ‘profit’ to include social and environmental benefit.
Do you feel the heat yet? Climate change is no longer an existential threat.
From the flooding in the US and Mozambique this year, to the recent
report that Canada is warming at twice the rate originally forecast, it has
Food production and agriculture are devastated globally, 80 percent of insect
populations have vanished in the last 10
species extinctions have multiplied at a pace unseen since the death of the
It’s too late to save those already lost, but there is still time to save
humankind and work to restore the natural resources sustaining life on earth.
Here are 6 ways we can influence business to shift towards the necessary
Join us for a transformational experience at SB Brand-Led Culture Change — May 8-10 in Minneapolis. This event brings together hundreds of brand leaders eager to delve into radical lifestyle shifts and sustainable consumer behavior change at scale. The trends driving cultural acceleration are already underway, and you can be at the forefront of this transformative movement.
Changing what someone thinks can be difficult and time-consuming. Instead of
focusing on trying to make people ‘think’ differently, see if you can get them
to ‘do’ differently.
For example, when
— TerraCycle’s new durable, refillable shopping platform — launches in the
United Arab Emirates, it may be under a design message: This is the future
of product design.
This design message has the potential to drive a behavior change that supports
sustainability in broader terms, as it appeals to an affinity for design and
user experience, versus angling for “green” sensibilities.
Meet people where they are and recognize they may choose self-serving activities
over ‘doing the right thing.’ Electric
caught on because of the perception they are more efficient than conventionally
powered vehicles, not simply because they offset petroleum consumption.
‘Sustainability’ needs to start communicating more like mainstream TV does: in
simple and clear
terms, instead of a high-brow, academic program. In the sustainability field,
many appreciate that complexity. But we must strip it away, and communicate the
problem and its solutions in clear and easy terms for the general public,
businesses and governments at large.
Topics such as
are easy to understand because they are visual and often elicit an emotional
response. But we also cannot shame people into good behavior through negative
visuals and guilt. The doom and gloom of beaches covered in trash, animals
choking on plastic, and studies on microplastics in tap water are not enough to
drive consumers to inaction.
Our sustainability challenges will meet their match through the lens of
innovation — an aspect of which is driving ease, convenience and simplicity for
sustainability. As a business, what are you doing to simplify sustainability and
its solutions to create behaviors that can save the planet?
Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from taking steps towards becoming a more
sustainable business and innovating for positive impact. When people tell you
“it can’t be done,” lean into your ideas even
you can be the first! This is invaluable ammunition for championing circular
economy initiatives in business.
The point is to innovate and create new approaches. If you are told it can’t be
done, it’s a sign you are on the right track and must keep pushing. If it
‘fails’ by conventional standards, that means you have learned something
important. Unique solutions don’t come without risk, and taking risks is how we
Why are we expecting NGOs and nonprofits to solve our problems? If two
businessmen can raise €300 million to restore Notre Dame within just six
hours, we know we need to follow the money.
For-profit companies are uniquely positioned with the trifecta of having the
cash, the speed and the global influence to create change. Danone and Procter &
Gamble combined have more impact and power over our planet than most national
governments. To answer the call of this climate emergency, we need business to
shift from being ‘less negative’ to being ‘for good,’ and to redefine ‘profit’
to include social and environmental benefit.
It’s simple. Every single issue (climate change, ocean plastic, biodiversity
bar none, is all linked to one thing: buying stuff. We need a fundamental change in our approach, and it needs to manifest through all parts of the ‘stuff’ cycle, not just the ‘waste’ cycle.
Every stakeholder has a critical role to play. Governments can and should be
legislating against products that cause harm and giving incentives to those that
don’t. If it’s harmful, manufacturers need to stop making it.
Then, retailers need to stop selling it — we’ve seen the success of this with
for example. It's incumbent on every business selling something to make it
impactful at every stage.
Finally, consumers need to stop choosing and spending their hard-earned money on
harmful products. The art of buying is an act of voting — consumer
purchases are at once both a vote for something, and a vote against the myriad
of other options they aren’t choosing.
It’s just that simple, and exactly that difficult. People need to stop looking
at the waste cycle to make it all better. The problems exist at every stage of
the chain and they all need addressing. It’s on all of us, because none of us
are getting out of this until we each do our part.
Business as you knew it is already dead. Accept this, move forward and use your
power to shift while there is still time. Stop saying that your company is not
or has other priorities: You don’t.
Businesses now need to create positive impact, not just sell their products.
Cleaning up supply chains is not proof of a positive impact; it is just being ‘less bad.’
According to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand
study, most people expect brands — over
activists and governments — to take a stand for and with society. The same study
reports companies are now more trusted than politicians; and more than half of
consumers are ‘belief driven,’ which means they look for and reward brands ‘for
Saving our species requires bold and brutal action while building a new model
for doing business.
As leaders in the world of sustainability, we urge you to consider these steps
to save our species.
We think it’s in everyone’s interest to act with suitable speed and urgency to
avoid the looming extinction we otherwise face.
Published Jul 8, 2019 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, the company recycling the non-recyclable; and Loop, the world’s first shopping system delivering products in reusable packaging.