“The world is on a catastrophic pathway.” These were the words of António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations, after the UN released a devastating report which stated that by the end of the century, the global average temperature will rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius even if every country met their emissions goals. Climate change has obviously moved beyond debate, but has that point really sunk in? Climate talks at the aforementioned UN General Assembly indicated that although world leaders have made progress on spending more money on controlling climate change, there seem to be no corresponding drastic measures taken on cutting emissions. So, solely relying on our governments to do all the heavy lifting seems like a pipe dream.

 

This is an opportunity for companies and consumers to come together and build a pathway to turn climate change rhetoric into action. It’s not like this hasn’t been done in other spheres. Over the past few years, many brands have embraced political and cultural statements made by their stakeholders, which helped move forward the conversation and subsequent actions surrounding topics such as the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter.

 

Before any action is taken, it is important for both companies and consumers to understand that it takes two to tango. And climate change is a complex issue that requires us to learn from our past patterns and consider varied perspectives. So where do companies start? And what role do consumers play?

 

1. Companies can start by facilitating #NoChoiceOptions

 

Part of the problem stems from how companies can get away with little to no backlash for providing misinformation surrounding their products’ origin or recyclability. As consumers, we need to ask, or even fight, for standards to be put in place that would allow for us to become informed decision makers. Did you know that even if a plastic product has the recycle logo, it doesn’t imply that the product can be recycled. Brands that claim to be manufacturing recyclable products need to start taking responsibility for the afterlife of a product. Campaigns and initiatives like showing what a plastic bottle can become if recycled and promoting product stewardship are steps in the right direction. Companies can also facilitate no choice options by giving their consumers no option but sustainably sourced, produced, and packaged goods. Now that is a tall order, but if there is a demand, then there is no reason for brands not to respond.

 

2. Consumers need to #MakeitPersonal

 

Though a majority of consumers say that they want to purchase sustainable and ethical products, when it comes time to talk with their wallets, they become eerily quiet. Customers need to realize that as bystanders, they’re not taking this societal and climatic challenge personally. Increasing awareness and knowledge surrounding the true cost of product ownership is vital for consumers to realize that their purchases have more than just monetary value. Unilever estimates that 70% of its own greenhouse gas footprint depends on what consumers do with their products. Individual ownership of this challenge can be advanced only if a consumer can clearly connect their present behavior and choices to their future outcomes. Elke Weber’s research on attitudes towards climate change establishes that human beings have a “finite pool of worry”. One way to consciously integrate sustainability into our lifestyles, or “our pools of worry”, is by using the power of social influence and competition. As humans, we inherently respond to emotional appeals laden with social identity, so this is where companies can help us embrace and believe that being sustainable is desirable, “or cool”. Look at how Patagonia has made conscious consumerism fashionable with their famous Black Friday campaign on the front page of the New York Times.

 

Yet, this only tells us what we, the current generation of consumers, can do. What about the next generations?

 

3. We must #PassitOn 

 

Fighting climate change is more than just saving the environment for our well-being. It’s about leaving behind a better world for the future generation of consumers, producers, and leaders. And there is an overwhelming majority of parents and teachers that support teaching the future generation of “customers” about climate change, but no progress is being made primarily because it isn’t a part of the curriculum. We are not trying to frighten children, but we must inform them of our current predicament. Teaching kids from a young age about how to be environmentally conscious and ethical decision makers will not only help them become better consumers, but also better producers and leaders. And in turn, education surrounding sustainability in the classroom could soon trickle into conversations at home where children influence their parents’ decision making.

 

If we all take one small step in the right direction, we are collectively moving our society towards taking individual ownership of this challenge. We will have to focus on the silver linings, turn risks into opportunities, and understand that change takes time, but all of this is only relevant when we can turn rhetoric into action. We need to act on our words if we wish to leave no one behind.

 

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