The last straw?

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Our climate is changing and so is the way we’re thinking about it.

Our concerns about global warming, pollution and sustainability have experienced a cultural shift. Where once it was “too big to do anything about,” now it’s personal. In 2019, it won’t be enough for companies to simply acknowledge environmental concerns; consumers will expect commitment to be proven through action.

Organizations will need to redesign their systems and business models to fit the “circular economy,” where users are active participants, and sustainability is built into their products and services.

Key sectors:

  • Health & Public service
  • Utilities & Energy
  • Retail & consumer goods
Climate change probably contributed to the California wildfires.
Climate change probably contributed to the California wildfires.

What’s going on?

Last year, we highlighted the rise of The Ethics Economy, with more organizations taking political and ethical stances above and beyond bottom line concerns. In the 12 months since, the environment hasn’t left the headlines, and people’s anxiety and anger about it has grown.

Global garbage pollution is more serious and visible than ever.
Global garbage pollution is more serious and visible than ever.

Microplastics are now found throughout our oceans, working their ways into sea creatures, and ultimately, our bodies. In fact, microplastics were recently discovered in human stool for the first time in history.

In September, California became the first US state to ban the use of plastic straws in restaurants, unless customers ask for them. In October, the European Parliament voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union by 2021.

The types of waste that plague our oceans – a visual guide created by Making Oceans Plastic Free.
The types of waste that plague our oceans – a visual guide created by Making Oceans Plastic Free.

Increasingly, companies, people and places are trying to put as much back into society as they take out by creating “net positive” strategies – acknowledging consumers aren’t just receptive to change, they now demand it.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has organized a pledge whereby 250 companies, including PepsiCo, Unilever and H&M, will team up with governments to boost recycling and end the flow of plastic into oceans.

Dell is one of a growing number of companies embracing recycling by design from the start.

Producing the Nike Flyknit generates 60 percentage less waste than normal trainers.
Producing the Nike Flyknit generates 60 percentage less waste than normal trainers.
Everlane’s ReNew reversible Hooded Puffer is made from recycled plastic bottles.
Everlane’s ReNew reversible Hooded Puffer is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Everlane recently debuted a collection made from recycled plastic bottles. And many Apple suppliers have pledged to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for the Apple-related proportion of their business.

Organizations putting green credentials front and center are already reaping rewards. At Unilever, sustainable brands have seen on average, 30 percent faster growth than Unilever brands that aren’t, and sustainable brands now deliver 70 percent of the company’s growth.

We have a bigger impact on our oceans than we thought - Blue Planet II reveals the importance of our oceans and how we are polluting them - BBC Earth.

What's next?

New business models of ownership and value will emerge with reuse and the circular economy in mind – realizing value where it wasn’t seen before by rethinking the traditional linear model of “take, make waste.”

Organizations will design for a different set of considerations and associated costs. We’ll see more emphasis on reverse logistics, repair, maintenance, disassembly, end of life, collection, hygiene, labelling and a shift to using real and more sustainable alternatives to virgin materials and traditional production methods.

New legislation will add further pressure for change – as will a shift in power to the grassroots and communities impatient for action. This presents an opportunity for collaboration between new players and big businesses to innovate and scale.

Designing for ecosystems must be at the heart of rethinking how organizations approach the circular economy and supply chain. This means putting the user in the middle, rather than consider them merely as the recipient at the end – making the user journey more circular.

The shift will be to approaching sustainability not as an add-on or something to retrofit, but as a service integral to your product.

Evidence update

What you should do

01

Redesign everything

Focus on the experience of making a difference. Make the experience of refilling, borrowing, returning or disposing as great as the experience of buying. To remove potential barriers to behavior change, make your sustainable products as desirable, affordable and convenient as non-sustainable alternatives.

02

Collaborate to get ahead

Think beyond your brand and business to industry opportunities, and shift together with your peers or even competitors. Join forces with others to solve problems collectively.

03

Tell your stories

Brands must tell stories around traceability, sourcing and impact to cut through and differentiate. Help consumers navigate the complexity of promises, certifications, and what's “real” versus what’s “greenwashing.”

04

Turn waste into wealth

Think about how to monetize and extract value from something that is no longer wanted, as well as how to create new value where it was previously nonexistent. View sustainability as a measure of impact and value alongside financial results.