As Davos winds down for another year, there’s a lingering sense that we’ve reached a turning point.
Climate change and environmental degradation took centre stage at the annual gathering of the world’s political and business elite. And while not everyone was pulling in the same direction (*ahem* Trump), there appeared to be a consensus crystallizing around the need for real change.
It has been a long time coming, but environmental concerns have finally climbed to the top of the agenda for big business.
The main driver? Consumer conscience.
Public attitude towards sustainable consumption has shifted away from aspiration and towards necessity. It is no longer enough to talk about sustainability. Consumers now demand action.
And there’s a widespread realisation across the business community that corporate attitudes must quickly adapt or suffer the consequences.
Several brands are embracing this shift, in an attempt to win back trust.
Dutch airline KLM’s Fly Responsibly campaign, for instance, actively encourages customers to consider whether the flight they’re booking is strictly necessary, or whether the journey could be undertaken by train.
Hedge funds, private equity and bank execs are also starting to rethink their investment strategies accordingly.
Major asset managers are beginning to divest (albeit gradually) from firms associated with high emissions, such as oil companies, while increasing investment in businesses that place sustainability at the heart of what they do.
To that point, Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, recently launched a new fund dedicated to investing in companies that contribute to furthering the circular economy.
Systemic change is also afoot. The Big Four accounting firms and scores of other companies signed up to a new framework at Davos that will see businesses account for their social and environmental impact, ensuring greater transparency for investors and consumers alike.
Gone are the days in which sustainability and corporate social responsibility programmes constituted a mere addendum to a business’s functions.
A new age of consumerism has dawned, and businesses need to act fast to stay ahead of the game.
As sustainable products and services become as mainstream and affordable as the legacy alternatives, consumption of anything but the ethical option will be seen as shameful.
Businesses that make it their mission to help alleviate consumers’ eco-shame will win big.
This may even mean implementing measures that momentarily damage their bottom line. The alternative – a disregard for the planet and its people – carries far worse long-term consequences.
There’s a sense that 2020 will be the year in which lip service turns into action. Spasmodic aspiration into reality.
Soon, innovative sustainable initiatives will no longer be praise-worthy exceptions, they will become the norm.
Kit Nicholl is a Senior Manager at strategic communications and public affairs consultancy Trafalgar Strategy.