When it was first published in 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring helped ignite the modern environmental movement. Nearly 60 years later, the salience of the issues it raised around sustainability have never been greater , intensified more recently through the increased understanding of climate change. Figures such as Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg enjoy international followings and the global environmental movement exerts a huge influence on political and business leaders.
Understanding the decarbonization movement
The impact of this movement is also being felt at an individual level, with some consumers seeking to minimize their own contribution to climate change through reducing their own carbon footprints. This can take the form of switching to renewable energy sources, choosing low carbon forms of transport and opting for products associated with brands recognized as sustainable. Apart from directly emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, it is widely recognized that levels of consumption of materials and goods contributes to climate change. Research conducted by GlobalWebIndex in 2020 found that 71% of consumers are making substantial efforts to recycle more waste and 51% reuse products and materials, meanwhile half of UK consumers are making a conscious effort to unplug devices when not in use.
How digital is driving change
Technology has been a key enabler of these changing behaviours, equipping consumers with information around how best to reduce their own carbon emissions and providing them with the tools to achieve this. Today consumers can use apps like the 1% for the Planet account that gives an on-demand view of the potential environmental impact of purchases; and resources like Cool Effect or Trip Zero enable holiday makers to opt for trips with the smallest environmental impact. Google Maps will soon default to showing users the route with the lowest carbon footprint.
Consumers do not expect to be the only ones using digital tools to reduce their environmental impact. There is now clear evidence that many choose to buy from businesses based on an assessment of their sustainability and their commitment to tackling issues such as climate change.
Businesses have recognized the power of this, with firms as diverse as Unilever, Lloyds Bank and Marks and Spencer actively promoting the steps they are taking to support the transition to net zero.
The test for businesses ahead of COP26 and beyond is whether they can match strong rhetoric with concrete action. There is reason to think that public demand to tackle climate change will only grow stronger. Backlashes against those seen as operating in an unsustainable way and moves by investors to divest from carbon-intensive sectors demonstrate the impact that changing attitudes are already having. There is then an implicit commercial risk for any organization that is seen as falling short of consumers’ expectations. The businesses that flourish in the future are likely to be those able to demonstrate that they are utilizing the same innovative tools as their customers to mitigate their environmental impact.