London

How brands and consumers are leapfrogging political action on climate change

  • As the Paris climate conference gets underway, climate change tops the news agenda once more. The ambition is a global deal that limits the global average rise in temperatures by binding each country to strict emissions targets.

    If such a deal emerges at the end of this week, the world will celebrate. But then the hard work begins. And we all have a role to play – politicians both nationally and internationally, businesses and individuals. With that in mind, it’s promising to see the so-called “B Team” – a coalition of chief executives for climate action – calling for strict temperature limits; these big-shot business people are not only powerful political influencers but also have significant potential, through their product innovations and communications to help reduce emissions.

    Product innovation is one way in which businesses and brands can help limit carbon emissions. A great example of this is Unilever’s compressed deodorant cans, which cut the carbon footprint of an aerosol by 25 percent. Unilever in particular is doing much behind the scenes to reduce greenhouse gases and waste from its supply chain.

    Increasingly, businesses are also aware that the way people use their products needs to change. From boiling overly full kettles to not bothering to recycle, it’s how products are used in day-to-day life that can be particularly troublesome for their overall environmental impact. So businesses are starting to think too about changing consumer behaviour, devising programmes and dedicating valuable on-pack real estate to tips for leading more sustainable lives.

    Take M&S’s “shwopping” programme, which encourages customers to bring in an old item to M&S whenever they shop there. These are passed on to Oxfam to be sold or recycled, dramatically reducing the amount of clothes sent to landfills, significant emitters of methane, which contributes to global warming. Or French supermarket Intermarche’s innovative campaign to encourage people to find a place in their heart for misshapen, and hence often wasted, fruit and veg.

    A great campaign from Dove in the Netherlands recruited children to be change agents for shorter showers. They were encouraged to measure their family’s showering behaviour over a period of two weeks and to upload their findings onto an online improvement meter. This helped them to see the impact of their improved behaviour – in terms of saving money and collective climate impact if everybody in the Netherlands were to do the same.

    These kinds of campaigns are great for lots of reasons, but particularly for giving consumers something specific they can do to live more sustainably and helping to frame the role of individuals. Climate change is big and scary, and people can struggle to understand not only what they can do, but also the impact that individual behaviour can have on such a huge global concern.

    So here’s to an ambitious and binding global agreement in Paris, and brands continuing to help consumers lead more sustainable lives.