Updated: Nov 9, 2020
In 2018, a Swedish teenager punched a hole in the global Climate Change conversation and has since been the catalyst to a worldwide rise in environmental activism. Since then, Asia’s marketing departments have been tasked to incorporate the word “sustainability” into every press release, in the process having to practise what they preach and finally make steps towards sustainability. But is this just greenwashing to capture millennial customers? Or have we finally arrived at a point where purpose and profit are the new “business as usual?”
Greta Vs Roger + Credit Suisse and everyone else in between
We have come a long way from a lone student sitting outside a parliament building with a handmade cardboard protest sign in August 2018. Exactly a year later, she galvanised millions around
the world to protest climate change. That’s what I would categorise as an “Influencer”. Unfortunately, brands are not exactly lining up to be featured on this teenager’s IG story because she’s not for sale- that’s exactly why Greta Thunberg inspires such extreme positive or negative responses with little in between. Which is more than we can say about other influencers who incorporated purpose (doing what you love) and profit (getting it for free or even getting people to pay you for it) and are driving marketing campaigns that are ironically un-realistic and inauthentic.
People are more sceptical than ever; this is most pervasive among civil society. These days it’s become a content strategy to “spot the greenwashing” among corporate CSR programmes. Things get especially interesting when influencers start questioning each other on the strength of their purpose.
Case in point- Greta Thunberg retweeted a post claiming Credit Suisse had given $57 billion to companies looking for new fossil fuel deposits with the question “Roger Federer do you endorse this?” At no other time in history would it have been possible for a teenager to question a global tennis star and a major Swiss bank and get them both to rally an official response. One positive here is that brands and individuals who monetise based on “purpose driven” taglines are held accountable for their duty to environment and society. However, these public volleys of Greta Vs The Climate Offenders tend to alienate everyone in the middle of spectrum. Especially corporates and social enterprises that champion innovation and collaboration to balance purpose and profit.
“Business as Usual” and Sustainability rebooted for the digital age
The biggest sustainability news to impact banks and large corporations was released in December last year. A new classification system that measured and labelled sustainable financial products, the EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy also revealed that investments in natural gas or nuclear energy were no longer considered sustainable. Banks who proudly display their eco-friendly awards are now scrambling to tweak their investment portfolios to reflect these new classifications. That is probably going to make far more impact than Greta and Roger on Twitter.
Out of the glare of young activists with cardboard picket signs, changes to governance and ever-demanding, digital-first consumers are disrupting “business as usual.” It is my firm belief that a new wave of activism led by corporates, Sustainability 2.0 needs to bring the best operating strategies, standards and reporting guidelines to push the undeniable benefit of purpose-driven profit which are cost savings through efficiency. Even more, social enterprises have to disrupt existing businesses with sustainable practises that not just re-invent but create new industries.
Beef 2.0: Beyond the trends that turned the Impossible into a new industry
Plant-based meat is a billion-dollar industry that is so trendy even Singaporeans- notorious for their opinions about food are racing to try Impossible burgers and Quorn “chicken” nuggets. Just a few years ago this would have been dismissed by the masses as “vegetarian propaganda”. Today, all the hottest brunch spots on the island have some form of “meatless meat” which as a true barometer of a food trend can only be compared to bubble tea.
This is an excellent example of sustainability, market driven principles and social media cool melding together in one burger patty of purpose driven profit success.
Linking the power brokers of industry- digital lords Bill Gates and Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams with Tyson Foods who is ready to reinvent its mass production formula with a splash of celebrity investment from Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyond Meat has projected an estimated US$5.2 billion in revenue this year. Businesswire claims that Impossible Foods products outsold all ground beef from cows at grocery stores across America, even outselling the next most popular product by more than six times in Southern California. That’s successful disruption!
Only by following the coat-tails of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, can it be truly possible to re-define and join the space between purpose and profit.