Do marketers have a commitment to act in the face of climate change? After all, we’ve worked hard to sell a lot of the stuff that’s polluted our world. What’s our role now to help change things? I’m no sustainability expert, but I know it’s got to be about more than selling “green” products.
An increasing number of Americans understand that climate change is real, and they want action. According to research from Yale and George Mason University, 74% of Americans agree “global warming is affecting weather in the United States.” At this level of acceptance, climate change is no longer “debatable.” There has been a huge jump in the number of Americans who not only believe climate change is real, but in the number who believe that humans are its cause: “More than half of Americans (54%) believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities, an increase of 8 points since March 2012.” And currently, more than half of Americans believe that “corporations, industry, and citizens themselves should do more to address the issue.”
We’re seeing small, mobilized groups of activists begin to “go nuclear” against polluting companies. University students all over the country are demanding endowments divest from energy companies; 72% of Harvard students just voted for the Corporation to divest itself from energy stocks. The majority of consumers aren’t ready to take such drastic action, but companies should be prepared for that day.
So I was heartened to see new research from Ceres, Calvert Funds and the World Wildlife Fund that shows big companies get it, too. The report finds that clean energy practices are becoming standard procedures for some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world, including AT&T, DuPont, General Motors, HP, Sprint, and Walmart. Fifty-six percent of the combined 173 companies in the Fortune 100 and Global 100 have set greenhouse gas reduction goals. What’s going to ensure these companies follow through, and that all firms take meaningful action to reduce emissions?
Public policy, driven by public pressure.
We are beyond of the point of “changing a light bulb to change the world.” Just as I’m skeptical of my ability to cool the planet by purchasing recycled printer paper, many Americans understand that big change requires big action — of the type that really can only be accomplished with the support of the president and Congress.
The government must set policy that requires businesses to do their part in preventing further global warming. But neither government nor business will make these changes without significant pressure from the public.
But first, consumers need to know what to ask for. Here’s where marketers come in.
There is a way companies and consumers can work together — with government — to face climate reality. As always, I’d start with reaching female consumers. Women are the consumers who disproportionately decide what their families eat for dinner, wear to school, and clean the bathroom with. Women shop, and therefore women are powerful. Sixty-six percent of women bloggers I recently surveyed make an effort to purchase brands “that support [their] personal values.” Take Bisphenol A, a toxic substance that was in almost all baby bottles. You’d be hard pressed to find any BPA in a plastic children’s product now, because moms got educated, and then they mobilized — all in the last five years. Companies don’t just remove toxic chemicals from products because it’s the right thing to do; they do so because their heavily female consumer base demands it. Just so, many businesses have adopted a broader set of environmental values because that’s what consumers want. Likewise, women need to recognize and wield their political power to influence the many politicians they helped put in office.
For years now the smartest minds in consumer marketing have learned how to sell green products. We’ve told consumers that if they shift their buying habits, they’re doing their piece to stem climate change. This isn’t really true. Consumers know preventing climate change requires big action; what they don’t seem to know is what big changes they should be asking for, both from the government and business.
I think being a good marketer in the face of climate change means educating the public about two things:
Facing climate change demands big as well as small changes. Those who support climate action need to present a roadmap for change that gives consumers ways to advocate for a better world, not just shop for one. Buying green is an excellent gateway into standing up for sustainability. What’s the next step a conscious consumer can take?
This is about preserving our way of life. As Dominique Browning of Moms Clean Air Force says, “It’s not about polar bears.” Every single parent will take action when the life of her family is at stake. Simple “greenwashing” isn’t enough to win women over. Instead, advocacy organizations, citizen groups, and even companies need to present effective, urgent and clear ways to act big. Moms Clean Air Force is leading the way by engaging mothers in fighting back against toxic legislation, often by signing petitions and contacting their representatives — actions that only take a few minutes. Climate Reality Project is organizing Americans to ask governments to legislate against “dirty energy.” Our representatives in government need to know what we want, or the louder (though often wrong) voices will prevail.
It’s time to have a shared conversation and face reality: our current levels of production and consumption are killing us.
Think I’m an idealist? Perhaps. But can businesses afford more Sandys? Do we want to spend billions of our tax dollars every year on federal emergency disaster relief? Without significant changes in the way we think about living, working, and consuming we will all feel the impact of climate change. We will need to act at some point; the only question is whether we make changes now to prevent catastrophe, or be forced to make even larger sacrifices after the fact. Without significant action from all actors — consumers, government, and business — we will not create the change so desperately needed to avert an insurmountable increase the temperature of our planet.
Smart marketers see the future and help drive a narrative toward that future. Shared action to fight climate change must be our future.
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