A few months ago, I would have bet on Earth Day 2020 being D-day for brands to prove their sustainability creds. The consumer mindset well and truly shifted to ‘green’ in 2019, with many changing lifestyle and consumption habits to reduce their personal impact on the climate.
Businesses had been put on notice: Either step up and address consumer sustainability demands on products and operations or risk being blacklisted.
But 2020 has taken a turn none of us could have predicted, not even on the night we said goodbye to 2019. In the days, weeks and months that have followed – life as we know it, in most countries around the world, has been turned on its head.
And so, this April 22 – the 50th Earth Day – is likely to be a novel one.
The climate crisis still exists of course, as does the passion and drive many around the world hold to protect this planet and the environment. But sustainability progress from businesses, and likewise demand from consumers, have largely been put on hold – replaced, for now, by the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fears of both individuals and businesses have justly narrowed. Most corporations are focused entirely on staying afloat during this time, as operations sharply decline or reach a standstill. Some are adapting, offering new products and services that meet the evolving needs of a world on lockdown. Others, who perhaps have more wriggle room in their bottom line, are announcing steps to support those wearing an unequal burden in this pandemic.
Consumers too have pivoted, with hygiene and health now taking precedence above all else to protect loved ones and the wider community.
A journalist at one of the U.K.’s national newspapers admitted to our team that sustainability has taken a back seat on its agenda over the past month, but clarified its ongoing significance. Sustainability remains second only to COVID-19 – and he knows it will once again take top priority once this crisis eases.
So for now we may continue to take each day as it comes. Marking Earth Day this time around a little differently perhaps, united across the world as we face a common enemy. Where it’s feasible for a brand, this calendar moment can still be leveraged – so long as it’s genuinely done for the environment. It’s not the time to push sales. But reiterating sustainability commitments or achievements, making new pledges or supporting relevant causes or organisations, even on a small scale, could help cement a brands position as a driver of positive change.
Because once the health of individuals is no longer threatened on such a scale, the health of our planet will take priority again amongst consumers. Businesses must be prepared for that next hurdle. When we emerge into a post-COVID-19 world, consumers will be significantly more conscious than before. Images of the environment thriving with less human interruption still fresh in their minds. Even if the positive environmental effects of lockdowns are only short-lived, that green consumer mindset will be back. Reduced consumption will have become the norm, and so too will reduced emissions and pollution albeit largely unintentionally. Reduced spending power will be a reality too, with many suffering losses to income.
Consumerism will change, likely for good. And brands will be facing a new fight for market share. Those built upon purpose, integrity and authenticity will thrive – and sustainability has a big role to play in each of those pillars. They’ll be held to simpler and yet higher expectations; we’ll remember and reward those who do good for the communities and world around them. Those who do good, not only with their product or service, but with their power.
So businesses are still very much on notice, in fact the stakes are now higher than ever before. Another new normal to adapt to – but an opportunity for brands, and all of us in the industry, to bring things back to what really matters. Bring brands back to Earth.