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Industry // March 25th, 2020

The Next Wave of Sustainable Trends

Written by Maxwell

Anyone else noticing that our culture is shifting? 2019 doesn’t feel like 2018. The mood feels more empowered, determined, cracked open. A bit more like a shift from me, to we.

I’ve spent the start of the new year trying to pay attention, doing less doing and more listening to pick up on cultural cues. One particular thread I’ve been trailing is how we are holding sustainability, a term most people couldn’t even describe just a decade ago. Today adoption of practices designed to consider the health of people, planet, profit is widespread, but what is capturing our focus and prompting action?

Here’s what’s coalescing for me. Be sure to click on links for a deeper dive and examples. I’m curious how it relates to what you’re seeing and experiencing as well. As always, big thanks for making the time to check this out and engage in the discussion. If you’re intrigued, you can sign up here.


Waste Not

Margaret Dilloway’s compelling essay revealed the Shinto philosophy underpinning the Marie Kondo trend: being grateful for what you have and “treating objects you own not as disposable but valuable, no matter their actual valuable worth.” So as Amazon works to become the defacto retailer of America, there is a growing backlash. Thrift shops are being overwhelmed with people’s clutter as they embrace simplification and a growing recognition of the impact of “stuff” on the environment. There are more rumblings about the consequences of convenience. A rise in sustainable fashion is changing mass retail. Initiatives are on a mission to inspire people to make personal changes with a focus on reducing waste and consumption while corporations are doing the same, testing and transitioning to reuseable and recyclable packaging.

A Shift From Economic Priorities To Societal

People have lost trust in government, replacing the leadership void by placing an overt expectation on business, as employers and organizations. Millennials want companies to stand up and do something in their communities, to be part of improving the world. Pressure is coming not just from consumers but from the business industry itself with pundits concerned about an emphasis on profits over people, urging businesses to broaden their focus beyond economic priorities to those that better society.

And there are a growing number of businesses that aspire to do just that, as evident by the more than 2,500 BCorp businesses, committing to assess and improve social and environmental performance. People are recognizing government can’t save them from global warming. Or fix societal ills. Business is in the driver’s seat.

Eating to Save the Planet

A plant-based burger won headlines… at the Consumer Electronics Show​. The Economist dubbed 2019 The Year of the Vegan. 34 percent of Americans plan to incorporate plant-based foods into their diet this year. U.S. sales of plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs grew by 17 percent from 2017 to 2018, compared to only 2 percent for the overall food sector, according to Nielsen. As businesses formulate new recipes, introduce new products and consider their own sustainable practices to map with consumers expectations, activists are calling on government to make changes as well calling for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to factor climate change impact, pollution and other environmental issues.

Wonder Can Work Wonders

As the old saying goes, it’s easier to attract bees with honey. I know this. But it was still good to get a reminder, backed by behavioral, cognitive and social science, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s riveting article “The Science of What Makes People Care.” The article reminds us how good we are at avoiding things we don’t want to do, feels inconsistent with our identity or values, or – perhaps worst of all – makes us feel badly about ourselves. It’s called a guilty bias. It’s why climate change gets the brush off to a large degree in our culture. As communicators, there’s room to make an impact. Research affirms time and again that people are attracted to things associated with positive emotions. “For example, awe – the feeling of wonder that comes with seeing a brilliant landscape or sunset – opens us to connecting with others because we feel smaller and more connected to other humans.” The article reveals what is more apt to transform behavior is making stories real, inspiring empathy, connecting to the human experience, and bringing things to life visually to enlist people in your cause.

Other things I’m paying attention to:

Learning more about the link between gender equity and global warming.

Is regenerative agriculture and a new certification part of the climate solution?

As big food gets the tobacco treatment and consumer preference for small independent brands grows, will that increase or slow the flurry of M&A activity in food?

Will The Green New Deal gain enough traction to make its way into the mainstream?

What’s happening to journalism as Pulitzer Prize winning journalists get laid off while the public’s interest, particularly among college-educated women, in news has never been greater?