Harvard Business review calls it the Age of Transparency; Time Magazine says “We are seeing the rise of the citizen consumer, and the beginnings of a responsibility revolution.” At Ogilvy Earth we are calling it the ‘Age of Good’ because, on a global scale, we assist brands and companies adapt to the new environment and still deliver profitability and product innovation. And they have achieved these goals without further impacting on the communities and environment they depend on.
In South Africa, the insurance industry is waking up to the threat of climate change and is reassessing the way in which policies are underwritten to mitigate their threats and the costs of paying out in the event of a natural disaster. Major engineering and environmental consultancies are working behind the scenes to advise on the effects of climate change and clean up pollution left behind in the wake of unethical factories who thought nothing of dumping toxic waste in rivers and land. And still you have deniers who say the earth is not in crises and life can continue as we know it.
Whether you believe in climate change or not – the facts are there is one planet and the way we are carrying on we will need another one and a half of them to maintain our current exploitation of resources. There are no planets for sale. Simply put economic growth can not be sustained based on the same model of the past. Climate change affects the whole world, but presently those most marginalised in terms of resource access. The gap between rich and poor is widening and as resources become more compromised and delivery of services more expensive you will see a societal meltdown. Moving towards a truly sustainable future has to consider environmental, social and economic factors otherwise our future becomes unsustainable and how do you look into the eyes of a child and explain that we are leaving them an utter shambles?
In South Africa 25 % of the people live in poverty and on government grants. This is not sustainable. We have a looming water crises on our hands and yet there is very little top down education about how to conserve water – or even legislation to ensure people do. The Department of Minerals and Energy has more sway than the Department of the Environment. The situation is out of balance.
So what does this mean for advertising and marketing?
You will see the main stream media reporting more often more about dwindling global resources and social media reporting on companies that are remaining firmly embedded in exploitative business models where profit is place above the planet and the people their supply chain impacts upon.
In South Africa over R5 billion is spent on corporate CSR projects per annum. These ‘feel good’ projects have very real contributions to make to raising awareness and developing strategies that are geared towards long term, sustainable change. The opportunities that CSR projects give to a brand or company enables great communications to be leveraged but there is a BUT.
The stories that are told have to be true, change has to be systemic and measurable and brands and companies can’t just jump on the ‘green’ bandwagon without having any idea what that means regarding creating a sustainable future that we are all part of. Companies need long term realistic sustainable visions not quick fix band aids.
Having a solar powered billboard does not make a company ‘sustainable’, just as planting lots of trees does not make a company ‘green’. And in the quest for brand dominance it seems a lot of players are adopting the ‘green’ approach without really understanding that this needs to be a thorough engagement at all levels and one which involves their employees and suppliers at the outset.
Social media campaigns will bust corporate green washers and big brash PR and AD campaigns with clever pay off lines about how ‘green’ they may be won’t cut it with consumers who are waking up to the evidence that things really do have to change, and fast. Brands who champion the cause of sustainability in all areas – social, environmental and economic – will lead the way in creating a culture that is aware of its integrity.
Nature works in a closed system and we assume that there is that place called “away” when we throw things – away. The age of re-using and recycling is very much upon us and there are incredible innovations being born out of the need to work with ‘rubbish’.
By identifying the gaps in the social and environmental arena a brand can become a change agent of note and develop loyalty from the new wave of conscious consumers who want to place their money in a product that does good as well as satisfies a need. Worldwide this is happening and there is huge opportunity but in South Africa the mindset that our poverty and economic issues are somehow divorced from the earth we live on prevents mass movement in the right direction.
Research was conducted by the UCT Graduate School of Business asking investment houses about their approach to sustainable investments and noted that the biggest challenge facing a growing economy and the people who invest the money , “ is a lack of interest or scepticism about the products available and that somehow our economic drivers are separate to environmental issues”.
Simply put they are not and in the next 10 years this will become ever more evident. The question is whether we deal with catastrophe or manage development correctly.
Wake up. More money is not going to solve the problem because if the extra revenue and growth that everyone is desperately striving for is not created from a sustainable model – what you will be living with won’t be pretty.
Trends come and go but the situation we are in now is a call to action for us as a society to transform the way we do business and the way we live in order to transform our place in the world we live in.