Marketing and Comms
Transforming Desire:
What Gets People In and Out of Bed When It Comes to Sustainability

There’s nothing sexy about a Materiality Report. Delicately revealing your intimate water stewardship credentials is unlikely to get any one hot under the collar. And no one at your local is going to leap out of bed for a carbon-reduction conversation.

Dream in a Box is a methodology I have been working on for some three years with Peggy Liu of JUCCCE and China Dream fame. It has its own dream: to help people re-imagine a more enduring, future-proofed model of prosperity at scale, a prosperity that aligns itself with a populist aspiration — a new aspirational concept of thriving within our own, our communities and our immediate world’s means.

For me that begins and ends with how we frame this new model of prosperity. Because at the moment we’re falling at the first hurdle. In fact, we’re often still doing a fair job of making it as unpalatable, impenetrable and unattractive as possible.

Dream in a Box uses a relentless 7-stage "Convene and Curate" methodology — Frame – Voice – Vision – Forge – People – Share – Measure — to mine old wisdoms, new insights and the vernaculars and vision of everyday people, create actionable themes and initiatives, and reframe the whole sustainability conversation. The Curation of multiple strands — of everyday language, wisdoms, visualisation and co-created ideas, all viewed through the lens of popular culture — takes it from the old Glass Half-Empty view of the world (looking up through the supply chain and wrapped in the mitigation and reductive mantras of the Environmental Movement) to a Glass Half Full view of the world (looking down through the everyday human insights and desires and wrapped in the aspirational language of a Prosperity Movement).

There is nothing new in the Box — it simply re-purposes the power of storytelling — the old dark arts of hollywood scriptwriters, soap opera creators, comic book culture and Madison Avenue ad-land creatives — for good; with the sole intention of delivering up richer insights to create the killer brief against which to storytell.

Dream in a Box does not claim to deliver the answer — the continuous curation is designed to enable us to ask the right questions of the right people*.* Asking someone what their idea of a more sustainable life is in a pub in Macclesfield on a wet Wednesday night is unlikely to garner much joy. It is worth remembering that for most of the everyday people out there — the 80+% not living in the bubble of S/CSR world or early adoption — the End of the Month comes before the End of the World, and they’re having enough trouble navigating themselves and their families towards that — so some portentous and highly worthy approach to brighter futures and the end of planetary destruction is hardly going to resonate.

Equally, some flip, trite and usually peripheral “do-the-right-thing” corporate campaign saying ‘look — aren’t we good at responsible sourcing, patting lambs and treating people really nicely, honest’ simply makes people think ‘good, I won’t bury you in the social networks … this week at least.”

We need to find the right language and visualisation that gets them out of bed, the keys to unlock their interest in a new form of desire and consumption — one underwritten by sustainability truths, not propped up by unsustainable myths. Dream in a Box Curators aim to convene an audacious diversity of people at every stage to just that end. Finding the right culturally attenuated everyday framing is a lot more likely to align with the underlying truths of our human condition.

They have simply taken advantage of our weakness (I’ll cover corporate predation in another piece) — that is the reflex, gene-pool imperative driving desire in all of us to appropriate and accrue, however sentient and ‘conscious’ we feel we might be. The more stuff we have — clothes, cars, white goods, furniture, meals, holidays, art, jewellery, technology, experiences, memories — the further up the gene pool consideration list we move (Result!), taking us closer to a superior class of preferred mate and the greater likelihood of an immortalised gene pool; survival of the fittest has mutated into survival of the richest.

Dream in a Box is not just designed to deliver a ‘co-created, culturally shaded re-imagination of prosperity’ — it is also designed to enable brands and organisations to capture value around the Sustainability and CSR investments that they have already made by revealing a better form of storytelling around them — meaningful and relevant to normal people, not just the Supply Chain wonk and the COO. It is designed to engender a new paradigm in both consumer and supplier — Survival of the Smartest.

To close, its worth me putting it out there that I have a dream lurking outside the Dream.

To really deliver against this ambition of re-imagining prosperity, I think the sheer scale of galloping self-interest and self-publicity in a supposedly shared-interest world, and the multiple organisations and consultancies taking cheap and underhanded pops at each other and each other’s methodologies, needs taking in hand.

Cheap is as cheap does; consultants and organisations treating each other with quiet derision and mocking and undermining each other at every opportunity to protect their revenue streams and ‘reputation’ just cheapens us all. If I were a client I would simply sit back and let us all squabble like children over train sets and sweep up every Jam Tomorrow presentation packed with IP that I could get away with. All in the spirit of ‘co-created,’ ‘open-source’ thinking and futures.

My Dream is based on the the quiet concern that I don’t think we’re really going to get anyone into or out of bed until we sort out our own crap. We are as much the blockage now as the language and the framing — our competitiveness and divisiveness mean that one ‘way’ is undermined by another ‘way’ until we simply breed inertia, indecision or both.

So my Dream is that the various consultancies, agencies, players, movers and shakers out there advising clients and organisations on how to frame "S" and CSR in more central brand-friendly and business-smart terms get in a room with brand agencies and PR companies and figure out how to live with each other — the shape of the constellation and how they all fit into it —without offering overlap and loss of ‘added value offering’ or IP. That could be fun. In fact, I sincerely believe that could be revolutionary.

And as the artist, Grayson Perry, pointed out recently, perhaps the most shocking thing we can do these days is to act with sincerity.

This post first appeared on the Thin Air Factory blog on November 5, 2013.


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