Why ‘sustainability’ is falling short
Before I get carried away, it’s pertinent to point out that this was first mooted nearly a decade ago. I am not saying anything new here. But like with any change, there are the early adopters, the pioneers, the people who have an idea almost too soon. Real change occurs a while later, at the tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly put it.
Never has the welfare of our beautiful blue planet been so high on the public agenda. Maybe some businesses are talking about it because they’ve realised their customers are starting to vote with their wallets and they are only interested in the bottom line, and some consumers are choosing sustainable brands to look good among their peers, but ultimately, the tide is turning. And ultimately, do individual motivations matter if it makes an overall positive change (for the time being, anyway)?
One of the silver linings of Covid-19 is it has been a bit of a global reset of attitudes and priorities, prompting many businesses to take a long hard look at themselves and do better. As I am in the business of language, I want to put the spotlight on the word ‘sustainability’ and ask if it’s enough. There is a whole industry built around ‘sustainability’ and it is a vital one. The people working in sustainability, and the businesses championing it, are doing truly exciting work. They are shaking up old models, interrogating supply chains, and finding the path to net zero, or better, net positive.
But let’s look at the word. To ‘sustain’ in this context means to maintain, to keep at a particular level. In fact, its definition is ‘to cause or allow something to continue for a period of time’. It’s passive. Haven’t we learned that this isn’t enough? Last year the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted how not being racist isn’t enough – standing by silently is not enough, and the rallying call to society was to take action for change to happen. It is very clear the action we must take now is to put things back, to rebalance, to regenerate the biodiverse soils and seas that we have ravaged. We’ve taken so much from our planet, that operating ‘sustainably’ is not enough.
Language plays a role in shaping our views and our behaviours. So, let’s change the language within the business world from ‘sustainable’ to ‘regenerative’. ‘Regenerating’ is an active word, it involves doing something, it implies we need to do more. And there is huge scope for the business world to do more. A long time ago, painting a school wall as part of a CSR programme was enough to tick a few boxes for the C-suite and the Board to be happy. That changed (hooray), and people wanted to know that a company was operating responsibly: Where are your materials from? How do you pay your workers? Do you have an impact report? Now, the dial has moved again. A US study found that consumers want companies to go well beyond sustainability and ‘do more good’ to the planet, with nearly 80% preferring ‘regenerative’ brands to ‘sustainable’ brands (study by ReGenFriends).
As we start to see the back of Covid-19 (fingers and toes crossed), let’s turn our focus to how organisations can be better, which is our driving purpose at Stand. An obvious example, but look at Patagonia, which is championing the switch to Regenerative Organic farming practices, which build healthy soil, to turn agriculture from a problem into a solution. Then there is Interface (a modular carpet manufacturer) – last year it launched the world’s first carbon-negative carpet tiles, which sequester more carbon than they create. Brands can be far more progressive and active.
The pioneers are already there, but what if this became mainstream and businesses were judged based on what it is proactively doing to fix our planet – how are they regenerating our wild spaces, rewilding our habitat, giving plant nutrients back to nature, storing carbon in soils and forests, reviving urban agriculture, or rebalancing our oceans?
Already, 81% of people say they must be able to ‘trust the brand to do what is right’ and, increasingly, the right thing means that consumers are demanding more from businesses than aiming to reach net zero within a decade or two. They will want more progressive action, now.
Catalysed through a subtle but powerful shift in language, what an incredible role businesses and brands can play in the reversal of our ‘greatest mistake’.
The future of payment – the revolution of mobility technology
Phasing out petrol and diesel cars and introducing EVs is a great option in...More information
Claire Brady on Net Zero Hero Podcast
Some people think that ‘circularity’ simply means recycling, but it is so much more...More information
Earth Day provides an opportunity to take stock of our progress towards addressing the...More information
When it comes to making sustainability claims, getting it wrong can cost organisations the earth
According to Robin Hicks, “2022 was the year that policymakers started to take greenwashing...More information
Less is more: How low alcohol brands are targeting their Gen Z consumers
Dry January may be over, but giving up alcohol definitely hasn’t gone out of...More information
Beyond B Corp: Breaking up with Barclays
Last year we became a certified B Corp, and to do so we had...More information
Three takeaways from the IPCC’s ‘final warning’ report
This week has seen the release of the latest IPCC report assessing the climate...More information
Why we’ve introduced a 4.5 day working week
As the rulebook of the working week gets rewritten, at Stand we continue to...More information
Stand shifts as we move into our second decade
I founded Stand with one simple (but typically ambitious) belief: that good comms can...More information
So… has the pandemic set us back or propelled us forward?
Last week, just days after the restrictions in England were lifted, we hosted our...More information
Wellbeing is not a one-size-fits-all approach
It’s safe to say that being plunged into multiple lockdowns across the past 18...More information
Covid-19 has given us a harsh lesson in education inequality
Although ‘Freedom Day’ is here, Covid’s effects will, as we hear all too often,...More information
The pandemic of inequalities
Last week, the Health Foundation’s Unequal pandemic, fairer recovery report made headlines, revealing that...More information
Has the pandemic set us back 50 years, or will it propel us forward?
At its onset, Covid-19 was described as the great leveller. But the pandemic has...More information
Pride 2021: Tokenistic campaigns just won’t fly anymore
June is Pride Month, a time for celebrating the diverse accomplishments, identities, and members...More information