Big brands mean [sustainable] business
This morning we held an inspiring, theatrical event with our partners, Unilever & J Sainsbury plc, to launch and debate Consumer Futures 2020, our latest set of scenarios and recommendations.
Anyone still feeling dozy at 8.30am in Unilever HQ, was woken up by the delights of Kilter Theatre, apparently welcoming them to an event all about *the future*…. a scene from “My Way”, one of the four Consumer Futures scenarios, followed. Suzie (from 2020) was frustrated by her ‘backward’ 2011 companion and put him in his place recounting her journey from 2011 to 2020, the highs and lows of the ‘underground veg movement’, while monitoring her stress through levels of cortisol in her hair via a mobile device which alerts her to calm down and simultaneously syncs with the NHS database…
We developed Consumer Futures in response to the ever-increasing challenges that require us to develop sustainably and turn the enormous container ship that is over-consumption around, with viable alternatives, as soon as possible. By 2020 we’ll have more than half a billion extra people on our planet (by the way, does that number mean much to you? it didn’t to me until I realised half a billion seconds = 16 years). So how do we meet all these people’s needs in the future, in a way that won’t irrevocably damage our natural environment, perpetuate climate change or create societal tensions at home and in our supply chains? Can big brands play a part in achieving this? Is it even possible?
At the event today we considered these questions. The 100 or so attendees from the consumer goods industry, marketing, comms and design agencies as well as a few central government and NGO folk, reckon the above is indeed possible. We asked them if they think it’s realistic for big brands to pioneer sustainable ways of consuming, and 75% of them agreed it is. And only 29% of them agreed that most consumers want to be pro-active in creating a sustainable future, rather than having brands 'do it for them’. So from this quick survey, it would seem Unilever, Sainsbury’s and their contemporaries have their work cut out for them.
Chairing the event, Jonathon Porritt, our Founder Director, reminded us that whilst the Consumer Futures scenarios describe relatively positive outlooks for 2020, today’s global situation is bleak. Our economic woes, he said, are overshadowing all governmental progress on tackling equally important issues like climate change. Fearful that companies risk falling into the same trap, he challenged them to be bold enough to consider their “future mandate just as much as their current mandate”, to not forego their long-term sustainability aspirations during hard times. Praising both Unilever and J Sainsbury, for being “intent on doing this” he ended by stressing the importance of big brands’ ability to lead on sustainability with “trust based innovations.”
Amanda Sourry, Chairman of Unilever UK & Ireland, talked through Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan and the progress they have made a year on from the launch. “Unilever’s biggest environmental impact, almost 70%, occurs when our products are used, in heating the water to have a shower or do the laundry… so engaging our consumers is vitally important. We want to inspire people to take small actions that, when added together, can make a big difference.” On the scenarios she said, “we are looking forward to using Consumer Futures in our business to help us find ways to mainstream sustainability and engage consumers.”
Another scene from 2020 ensued, this time from “I’m in Your Hands”, a world in which Suzie has signed up to a ‘branded bathroom’ of her choice, and no longer has to worry about whether or not she has run out of shampoo, or which one is more sustainable than the other – the brand does it all for her – she is well and truly, in their hands….
Having launched the hot-off-the-press "20 by 20" sustainability goals last night, the Chief Executive of J Sainsbury plc, Justin King, assured us that despite Jonathon’s earlier comments, government have not entirely given up on sustainable development, given the positive response from no.10 on their ambitious “20 by 20” targets. Confident in Sainsbury’s ability to drive a shift to sustainable consumption in time for 2020, he encouraged other companies to recognise that “sustainability and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, but mutually imperative.”
Consumer Futures is designed as a practical tool to help retailers, brands and manufacturers throughout the global consumer goods industry plan for the future. It is also a useful tool for design, innovation and creative consultancies as stimulus for idea generation when working with consumer goods clients, for example.
Sainsbury’s and Unilever plan to use the scenarios as a platform for collaboration and innovation, jointly developing profitable and sustainable initiatives that will help them meet their ambitious sustainability commitments. We hope others will take advantage of the rich, provocative content in the scenarios and use the toolkit to engage their teams, clients and value chains on strategy and innovation for sustainability. Please let us know your responses to the scenarios and recommendations and if you plan to use them!
For more information please contact Fiona Bennie firstname.lastname@example.org
For more info on Kilter Theatre, check them out here: www.kiltertheatre.org
Download the Consumer Futures scenarios and toolkit here.