From September 23rd to 29th, 2019, climate activists will gather en masse in New York City with the hopes of transforming climate talk into climate action. Led by international nonprofit The Climate Group in parallel to the United Nations General Assembly, Climate Week will unite the most eager and inspired minds of businesses, nonprofits, academic institutions, and activist movements to catalyze scalable solutions to the ongoing climate crisis.
The past five years have been the five warmest years since 1850. This July was the single hottest month for the planet in recorded history. In 2018 alone, 17.2 million individual displacements linked to climate-related disasters across 148 countries and territories were recorded. As the effects of climate change are felt in every corner of the world, we are in a moment of desperation for effective climate action.
With access to vast resources and expertise, the private sector has the power to help change the trajectory of our endangered earth. Nearly two-thirds of consumers believe brands should play a role in improving the environment. In a 2018 survey of over 33,000 people, 76% of respondents agreed private sector leaders should take the lead on change rather than wait for the government to impose it and over half believed CEOs can create positive change in the environment.
Yet, as brands begin to step into the spotlight as active participants in climate action, it can be easy to forget that the power to impact the planet lies not just in a brand, but also in its people. Here are a few ways brands can empower the next generation of climate activists–their employees and consumers–who are the very reason they can exist.
1. Their Employees
To start, organizations should foster brand values and guiding principles their employee base will feel proud to support. It is important for brands to create a company culture of transparency and communicate to stakeholders at all levels both the successes and setbacks in their sustainability journey. This will demonstrate their dedication to aligning the values of the brand with those of their community and willingness to tackle challenges along the way.
Next, companies can give their employees a real seat at the table. Inviting them into boardroom discussions, welcoming their ideas on how to devise greener business practices, and implementing employee-led initiatives are just a few of the ways companies can leverage the diverse perspectives of their employee base as jumping off points in their long-term vision of sustainability.
Finally, brands can empower their employee base with the autonomy to transform ideas into action. They can garner and allocate support for employees as they organize internal coalitions, partnerships, activations, fundraising efforts, and petitions. Businesses can also offer their workforce paid time off to participate in climate action, like this Friday’s Global Climate Strike, Climate Week events, and other opportunities to connect with like-minded peers and bring back their learnings.
2. Their Consumers
While teen activist Greta Thunberg may be the face of the climate movement, she is also one of many current and future consumers who will not settle for a lack of authentic purpose in the brands they stand by. For brands looking to empower the next generation of consumers and youth activists as businesses they will be proud to support, it starts with addressing three key questions.
First: is the brand working to improve its existing business model? It’s one thing to tell a brand story of sustainability, and another to walk the walk and be a source of inspiration to others. Brands can hone in on specific issue areas–like supply chain regulation, transportation, or sourcing of raw materials–and start creating tangible changes. Though enacting some of these changes may require sacrifices in the short term, climate change will impact profits and brand favorability much more down the road if companies are resistant to change.
Second: how is the brand educating consumers about their business practices? It is important for companies to be transparent about the factors that contribute to their carbon footprint and steps they are taking to shrink it. They can join the 1.5 Pledge–just one of the many coalitions that signals to their consumers a commitment to improving business practices and learning from their peers across industries.
Finally: how are they using their brand voice and action to empower their consumers to create their own change? As companies adapt their business models, they can offer ways for consumers to track and minimize their carbon footprint through their interactions with the brand. Better yet, brands can incorporate circular design methods into their business model and create pathways for consumers to partake in their recycling and repurposing channels. To scale their impact, they can build subscription programs or modify the one-for-one model to allow their consumers to choose where their contributions actually go.
Employees and consumers are not just the next generation of brand supporters: they are the world’s rising changemakers. With the state of our planet at stake, the social responsibility to devise and implement sustainable solutions to the climate crisis and take part in climate action has become a moral imperative for all–including the private sector.
Brands today have a pivotal opportunity to do better by doing good and tap into the power of their people to help protect our planet.