Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Topic: Environment

Tackling climate change at the University of Bath

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📥  Environment, Sustainability

 

The Bonn Climate Conference is drawing to a close, with world leaders calling for strong action to implement the 2015 Paris deal. As a university, there are three main areas where we can have an impact on sustainability and climate change: through our own policies and behaviour; through teaching; and through research. Previously our MSc students have written about the impact of business ethics teaching on their attitude to future employment, while others have discussed their research on sustainable consumption, environmental regulation and waste reduction. In this piece, the University’s Energy & Environment Manager, Peter Phelps, discusses the policies and plans that shape our institution’s impact on the environment.

 

Cutting our carbon footprint

The University of Bath was the very first UK university to set carbon reduction targets back in 2003, and our 2010 Carbon Plan was held up as an exemplar for the sector by the Carbon Trust. We are now preparing our latest plan, which must respond to the Clean Growth Strategy recently launched by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. This sets out the government’s approach to implementing the next phase of UK strategy under the Climate Change Act (2008) across areas such as power generation, industrial efficiency, green finance, domestic efficiency and transport. It particularly highlights the key role of the higher education sector in leading by example. The strategy includes new carbon reduction targets for the whole public sector, of 30% by 2020/21 against 2009/10 levels. Additionally, mandatory reporting and the potential for extra funding for efficiency improvements have been outlined.

Despite growing as an organisation, we have cut our carbon footprint over the last ten years: taking growth into account we have cut our emissions per student or per building floor area by a third. Typically, many energy efficiency improvements are ‘behind the scenes’. We constantly work to improve building efficiency by enhancing controls to reduce consumption. We have reduced water use through improved leak detection and usage monitoring. Other hidden improvements include increasing our self-generation of power through our ‘mini power stations’ whereby we produce 8% of our own electricity on campus and recycle the waste heat.

Smart meters and controls are increasingly in the news as these make their way into people’s homes – we have been at the forefront of this for several years with our automated network of 2000 smart meters. We use this data and our sophisticated controls to respond to national grid shortages to minimise our peak electricity costs, and deliver a targeted approach to energy management.

A more visible example of our investment is the £1 million we have invested in LED lighting in the last year. The Library, for example, has had all lights on Levels Two to Five replaced by the latest high-efficiency LED lighting with sophisticated automatic controls. This has cut lighting costs by 70%, reduced maintenance costs significantly and transformed the appearance of the whole building. Our lighting systems are state of the art with all lights, switches and sensors controlled by data networks. This control network has grown to be the largest such system in Europe; installed in fifty-five university buildings the Estates team are able to control over 30,000 devices from a single location.

We bring best practice into our approach to designing and procuring new buildings, and set challenging targets for our architects. We’ve also doubled our solar panel capacity, and our campus now operates with a 100% renewable energy supply.

Cutting carbon in this way also saves money – we are saving around £1.5m every year on utility bills due to our improvements - and this is against a backdrop of expected future increases in electricity costs of around 40% in the next few years.

 

Solar panels on the Chancellor's Building, University of Bath campus. Image by Nic Delves-Broughton

Recycling

As well as focusing on how we can reduce energy use, we have schemes to tackle the other “Rs” – reuse and recycle. Our recycling rates have increased from 36% to 54% in two years, and we are the first UK university to introduce large scale coffee cup recycling. We have installed 25 coffee cup recycling bins around campus, giving staff and students the opportunity to recycle all disposable coffee cups. The cups are taken to a recycling facility in Cornwall where they are made into items such as pens and pencils. The scheme, along with the promotion of reusable cups and containers, has the potential to divert over 650,000 disposable cups per year from the general waste stream.

In the last couple of years, we have launched an end of term waste scheme. Last summer, the University collected 27 tonnes of ‘end of term’ unwanted food, clothing, crockery and appliances. These were donated to charity, raising over £22,000 for the British Heart Foundation and making a significant dent in the amount of items sent to landfill.

Student action

We run the award-winning ‘Student Switch Off’ and ‘Leave No Trace’ campaigns in our student residences and hospitality outlets. Our students are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of not only their own activities, but also the practices of the University, as evidenced by the latest SU Top 10. This states that “when students graduate they want to be ethically concerned citizens alongside their academic achievements…We hope to work to a more sustainable University by examining our environmental practices and finding key initiatives that can be adopted to make a more green university...”

As discussed in an earlier post, it is students who are leading the way in incorporating awareness of public impact into their private decisions.

 

Conclusions

We have managed to cut our carbon impact as an organisation despite growing significantly, but this has been a real challenge. Perhaps we haven’t always been as ambitious as we could have been; perhaps there are echoes of this in the UK’s performance as a country, and also in our own behaviours as individuals. The challenge for the country, the University, and all of us, will be to respond to these internal and external pressures, and to plan for the future in a suitably ambitious way.

Read our latest Energy & Environment report in full

 

Header image of University of Bath campus by Nic Delves Broughton

 

Global Climate Change Week - turning ideas into action

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📥  Environment, Sustainability

 

Today marks the start of Global Climate Change Week, which aims to encourage academic communities – including academics, students, and non-academic staff at universities – in all disciplines and countries to engage with each other, their communities, and policy makers on climate change action and solutions. In this piece, Aurelie Charles describes how the University of Bath is marking the week, and considers how students are leading the way in taking a multi-disciplinary, partnership approach to tackling climate change.

 

In October 2015, in the build-up towards the COP21 meetings in Paris, a group of staff members at the University of Bath organised themselves to take part in Global Climate Change Week (GCCW). GCCW is a global initiative taking place across universities worldwide to bring together staff, students, and local communities in order to raise knowledge and awareness of climate change. We started by inviting all students on campus, regardless of their field of study, to attend lectures around issues of sustainability. These lectures were already embedded in the university curriculum and spread across faculties from Chemical Engineering and Architecture, to Management and Social and Policy Sciences. Last year, numerous events took place in our arts centre, the Edge, across campus and in lecture theatres. Since GCCW started, a COP21 Implementation group has also been set up, bringing together academic and non-academic staff members to promote teaching and learning activities both across campus and in the university curriculum, supported by the Teaching Development Fund.

In this year’s GCCW, we are supporting an event led by Bath Sustainability Postgraduates, a group of Bath postgraduates who are leading the way in closing the gap between individual intention of climate action and actual behaviour. The event takes place on Wednesday 11th October in the Harvest area of the Edge from 11am to 3pm. The aim is to bring together students and staff in one-to-one discussions on how to reduce our daily carbon emissions. As part of this event, we will also be launching the first university wiki on sustainability. This will be used to gather together all relevant resources around sustainability on campus, with a database of units across faculties addressing sustainability issues, but also advertising events happening on campus during the year.

In effect, there is much more to come this year in terms of public engagement events and learning activities around sustainability on campus, and students are leading the way. The Students' Union is running its annual Go Green week in the last week of October, and other student-led groups such as Student Switch off, People and Planet, and our Green Champions are all feeding into the self-sustaining loop from individual awareness to public action.

Student leadership is inspiring and this is precisely the highlight of all these initiatives. With our support, students are preparing themselves for a sustainable future. They are going beyond subject-specific knowledge as they are not afraid to build bridges across disciplines in order to address our current major global challenge. Kostas Iatridis  recently wrote about the necessity of public-private partnership in order to address our environmental challenges, which echoes in many ways Mariana Mazzucato’s voice for such partnership to think about and to finance inclusive growth. Yet, our students are already wiring their brains to go beyond the public-private divide and beyond the mental barriers of disciplinary knowledge. They are already aware of the necessity to embrace the public impact in our daily private decisions.

Image by Garry Knight

 

Corporate environmental impact - why self regulation isn't enough

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📥  Business and society, Environment, Research

 

Globalisation, the demise of the state and rising stakeholder expectations have resulted in the proliferation of  a self-regulatory approach to managing corporate environmental impacts. Self-regulation is now a major feature of environmental protection and is largely synonymous with the management of corporate environmental responsibility. In this piece, Kostas Iatridis questions the wide belief that environmental self-regulation represents an effective means of addressing environmental challenges, and suggests this can be achieved only through a collaboration between public and private bodies.

 

The rise of self-regulation

The prevalence of neo-liberal economic views in running the economy, along with the transformation of our world into a global village, have promoted environmental self-regulation as an effective means of dealing with increasing environmental challenges. State regulation has been criticised as ineffective, non-flexible and costly. Instead, voluntary action has been used to advocate a market-fundamentalism that puts the workings of the market first. Environmental laws and institutions are expected to conform to the laws of the market in order not to restrain trade and economic profitability.

This shift towards market autonomy has resulted in new, prosperous markets. This in turn has facilitated the proliferation of voluntary self-regulatory tools for environmental protection (e.g. ISO 14001 and EMAS). Such tools have been endorsed by armies of consultants, policy makers, and auditors as a panacea to harmful environmental practice. Governments too have supported self-regulatory approaches as a means of facilitating corporate responsibility and some have even declared their incapacity in dealing with environmental issues.

Following the wide endorsement of self-regulatory tools, one might expect to find a positive relationship between their adoption and improvements in corporate environmental performance. Yet, studies have questioned the effectiveness of environmental self-regulation by suggesting that its adopters might not necessarily perform better than non-adopters. Critics highlight the commercial relationships formed between self-regulating firms and external auditors, as well as a lack of knowledge amongst auditors, as particularly problematic. They take the view that due to these issues, auditing mechanisms might not always be as robust as they should be, enabling firms to behave opportunistically and in their own interests.

Furthermore, the tendency of earlier studies to focus on firms’ motives for adopting such self-regulatory approaches, along with a belief that environmental certification is synonymous with improvements in environmental performance, have offered limited views on the real potential of self-regulation to reduce environmental impact.

 

Does self-regulation mean better environmental performance? 

It is only recently that discussions have moved towards the effectiveness of self-regulation in safeguarding environmental performance. Interesting views have emerged suggesting that the latter might depend on the institutional environment. In particular, it is suggested that stringent external environmental regulation might discourage firms from adopting environmental self-regulation in the first place. This is because, in such institutional contexts, the marginal gains in efficiency and strategic differentiation associated with environmental self-regulation are very small. In contrast, when firms operate in the weak institutional environments often found in developing countries, and seek to export to countries characterised by strong institutional regimes, they tend to adopt and substantively implement environmental self-regulation because of strong motivations to improve their internal efficiency.

These are important insights, making us think differently about environmental regulation. Self-regulation alone might not always serve the common interest, thus state regulation has a role to play. The times in which we live are challenging for governments, as globalisation has transformed many states into little more than transit stations in the world-wide trade of goods administered by multinational corporations. In many instances, states have lost the power to define the conditions that affect economic activities within their own territories. As a result, we have seen states retreating and, in the name of efficiency and cost cuts, passing more responsibilities over to the private sector. However, phasing out state regulation, as has been advocated by supporters of market autonomy, cannot ensure effective environmental protection. No single governance actor, private or public, has the independence, expertise or operational capacity to pursue effective environmental regulation. What is needed is cooperation between the public and private sectors.

 

Public-private cooperation

The big question is whether public governance actors have an appetite for taking this on. Recent developments, such as Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris’ climate agreement, contrasted with Senate’s recent approval to fund the United Nations’ climate change body, not to mention Brexit as well as several geopolitical tensions, send contradictory messages and, in some instances, question whether environmental issues should even have a place on the international agenda.

To sustain the momentum of action for environmental protection, business leaders, academics, policy makers and civil society organisations need to acknowledge the questionable outcomes of environmental self-regulation and engage in discussions that promote collaboration. The recent crossing of the northern sea route without ice breakers signals the undisputable significance of environmental challenges and the necessity for finding the right mix of state and self-regulation to address them.

 

Image by Kris Krug

Thriving in the cold - the challenge of sustainable development in the Arctic

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📥  Business and society, Environment

 

Despite the sometimes questionable reputation of the extractive industries, it's possible that mining can contribute to comprehensive sustainable development in the Arctic. Partnerships with host communities can create value for stakeholders and promote inclusive economic growth. In this post by Bath MBA graduate Pernille Moeller, we look at two very different mining projects and examine how their contrasting approaches affected the outcome of their bids.

 

To most, the Arctic offers a window into the effects of climate change - into what may be described as the trailer to the world’s slowest disaster movie. But the Arctic is about more than melting icecaps and polar bears. It is also home to large indigenous groups who are struggling with poverty and lack of economic opportunity.

Sustainability (as traditionally defined by the Brundtland Commission) is a two-legged beast. We need "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". In theory, economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality will promote each other in sustainable development, but practice can at times prove harder than theory. For the Arctic it may seem there is a certain trade-off between what we think of as international sustainability versus inter-generational justice.

As the world is slowly waking up to the fact that melting ice has real and massive consequences for the rest of the world, the knee-jerk reaction has been to conserve and protect the pristineness of the Arctic. We might define this as international sustainability, ie at least a few places are left untouched in the world.  However, conservation tends to only cater to the environmental aspect of sustainability. It rather conveniently forgets about the needs of the present, such as the need for a diversified economy to withstand the increasing pressures from climate change.

Greenland holds significant amounts of natural resources: oil, gas, iron, diamonds, rubies, zinc, hydropower. The list is long and large parts of the island are still only superficially mapped. Mining is likely to be the key that can unlock economic sustainability for the territory. To leverage this sizable potential, foreign expertise and capital is needed. High rewards are often linked to high (operational) risk, and the logistical challenges in Greenland are significant. Infrastructure is lacking at the most basic level: no two towns are linked by road and trained labour is scarce.

To succeed in this challenging, but potentially very rewarding market, requires a particular approach. A comparative analysis of two incoming companies indicates that this success is determined by  partnership, social capital and perhaps just something as simple as genuine respect.

The two companies in the analysis were both early to the market, but different in every other respect.  The first company, one of the world’s largest producers  of aluminum, proposed a £2 billion operation that  would take raw aluminum from Africa and ship it to Greenland. There it would make use of the plentiful cheap energy from hydropower for its highly energy-intensive refinement process. The second company had just one other smallish mine in Arctic Canada, their operational model depended on less than 100 people and their product (red rubies) was local and well-known.

On paper, the large multinational seemed so much more capable than the smaller company. It was the smaller company, however,  that successfully entered the market, while the multinational’s bid failed.  Both companies sought partnership, but did so in significantly different ways. The multinational went in with a state ambassador and negotiated hard for favourable conditions with politicians and high level officials. The smaller project also sought partnerships but on a much more local level.  Its  strongest advocate in the permit process became the small settlement which now hosts the mine. It also chose to establish a local office early in the process, which enhanced the perceived legitimacy of the project.

Close ties to government can be tricky, not least when you seek to extract natural resources in developing economies. There is risk of corruption, and the reputational risk from that may outweigh the initial benefits. Buy-in from local government certainly helped both projects, however it was the real partnership with the local settlement that secured the smaller company a steady supply of workers and the necessary licence to operate. Time, an essential component of social capital, was a vital ingredient.

Local rumour has it that when the first liaison team from the multinational arrived, there was a major storm. Delays meant a chief executive’s luggage had been lost. Local officials offered to help secure the gentleman a new outfit. However, he refused the offer, as he wasn't intending to stay long enough for a change of clothes to be needed. Looking back, that might have been the moment when everyone should have realised that this was not a partnership worth pursuing.

Extractive industries in highly fragile ecosystems are controversial. Most of us have an urge to protect what little pristine nature is left. However, blocking commercial investment may jeopardize sustainable development, because business – when done well – can be such a powerful tool for inclusive growth and poverty alleviation. This case study shows us how understanding the context in which one plans to operate is crucial to a successful bid. Early explorers to the Arctic learned the hard way how incredibly difficult it is to survive on one’s own in a harsh and unforgiving environment. That is still a relevant lesson for the explorers of today.

 

About the author
Pernille has spent the last decade working and living in Nuuk Greenland, focusing on issues relating to climate change, international cooperation and inclusive growth. She worked for the Government of Greenland for a number of years in roles including Head of Office for Climate and Energy. She currently runs a social enterprise in East London, also aimed at marrying inclusive growth and prosperity with environmental sustainability. Originally trained as a political scientist, she is a graduate of the Bath MBA.
Image: Construction of transmission cables near Qorlortorsuaq by Nukissiorfiit

 

Changing our diet to save the planet - the role of social marketing

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📥  Consumers, Environment, Policy

 

CBOS PhD student Thomas Mansell discusses the role of social marketing in helping people shift towards more sustainable consumer eating habits through four distinct stages of change. 

Global food consumption and production is seriously unbalanced. In the UK alone we threw away 4.4 million tonnes of “avoidable” food waste in 2015 – that is food that was edible before it was discarded – which equates to £13 billion worth of food wasted, or £470 per household. Meanwhile, nearly 800 million people globally are chronically undernourished.

The world population is projected to grow to 9 billion people by the middle of this century. We face a huge challenge in finding ways to adequately feed this rapidly growing population whilst also protecting the natural environment.

However it is not just the amount of food production and the balance of its distribution that are key concerns for sustainably feeding the planet. We also need to think about what we are eating.

Presently western diets are characterised by a high proportion of animal foodstuffs, and this is a problem not just for our health, but for the environment.  The Hunger Project has cited climate change as one of the hidden sources of hunger. In doing so it highlights how food production and the environment are inextricably linked.

Meat and dairy production requires more land, more water and has higher greenhouse gas emissions than plant based alternatives. As the global population continues to grow, we will need to be ever more prudent with the resources that are required for food production. We must consider whether the proportion of resources currently devoted to meat and dairy production is optimal given the numbers needing to be fed and the environmental impacts such diets can cause.

Already China has pledged to reduce its meat consumption by 50% by 2050 through changing its government-issued dietary regulations. In many European countries, however, there is more resistance to regulation. The German Environment Ministry’s plan to no longer serve meat at official functions was met with criticism earlier this year. In the UK, the government has a clear preference for encouraging individuals to make the right choices as opposed to regulating them.

So how can people be encouraged to switch to a more planet friendly diet? And how can social marketers and policy makers encourage a dietary transformation of the population when it seems so many people struggle with, or are resistant to change? Research in the field of environmental psychology suggests that individuals will switch to a meat-reduced diet, but this change needs to be self-regulated and go through a process of several stages before it sticks. At each of these four stages of change an individual needs to overcome different barriers to progress to the next stage.

At the first stage, individuals have a stable but unsustainable behaviour pattern and do not see any need to change. For those in this stage, the initial barrier is to understand why their current behaviour is harmful and to recognise that by changing it they could ameliorate this harm.

At the second stage, individuals are contemplating changing their behaviour but haven’t yet changed what they are doing and may be unsure how to do so. They need to determine a specific course of action that facilitates their goals. In relation to meat reduction, this could involve reducing portion sizes, only eating meat at one meal or having meat free days.

At the third stage, individuals are trialling their new behaviour, but are still highly susceptible to relapses. To progress to the final stage, they must come up with effective implementation plans to ensure their new behaviours will be sustainable in different contexts.

Should individuals reach the fourth and final stage, their behaviour should have built up some resistance to relapses and is therefore more likely to have an impact.

The research tells us that targeted campaigns designed to reduce meat consumption which address the specific stage of change for an individual, are more effective than traditional informational campaigns. At the University of Bath, our research is looking at which social marketing techniques are most effective at each stage of change. In particular, we are looking at what social factors are significant in driving change through the different stages. This is particularly important given the social or collaborative aspects of dietary behaviours: we might eat breakfast with our family, lunch with our colleagues and have dinner at a restaurant with friends. Each of these situations brings different social rewards and pressures which are likely to impact on our choices.

Understanding these contexts is therefore of utmost importance when designing behaviour change campaigns. If we can better understand how individuals are likely to respond to different campaigns and policy measures to change their diets, then we can help social marketers and policymakers design measures that are least likely to encounter resistance and most likely to encourage the desired behaviour changes.

The food system is inherently complex and reducing meat consumption is just one example of how consumer habits will need to change if we are to alleviate world hunger and sustainably feed the planet. If we can arm policy makers and change agents with the right tools to encourage a shift to different behaviours, then hopefully we can enable a smoother transition to a sustainable food system.

Image by Albert Mock

 

Trump’s first 100 days have triggered political activism among corporate America

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📥  Business and society, Environment, Human rights, Policy

 

President Trump has introduced a flurry of legislation in his first 100 days. Companies and their CEOs are responding by taking stands on political issues in ways rarely seen before. Andrew Crane asks whether this could end up transforming the way we think about corporate responsibility.

President Trump’s first 100 days have not been good for the planet. While the question of whether he will fulfil his campaign promise of rolling back the US’s commitment on the Paris climate deal is still to be settled, he has stuffed his cabinet with climate change sceptics. Most notably, the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency met with a storm of criticism. This was hardly surprising given his ties with the energy industry, his denial of man-made climate change, and a long history of fighting the very agency he has been appointed to lead.

Trump and his cabinet have not been slow in rolling back environmental regulation introduced during the Obama presidency. As part of an effort to revive the coal industry, an executive order last month started unravelling Obama’s clean power plan (CPP). As the New York Times reported, the order effectively ceded the US’s leadership in addressing climate change and turned “denials of climate change into national policy”.

While such developments were hardly unexpected, what has been interesting has been the corporate response. Last November, nearly 400 US companies including Nike, Levis Strauss and Starbucks demanded that he leave in place low-emissions policies. In the wake of the CPP announcements in March many companies again took a public stand against the policy reversal. For example, Mars Inc. expressed disappointment at the policy change while tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft signed a joint statement supporting the CPP.

It is rare to hear companies, and US companies in particular, arguing to keep regulation. They are also usually unwilling to take explicit political stands in the public eye, preferring to use lobbying and more covert forms of political influence to sway governments to act in their interests. But the corporate response to the climate rollback seems to be part of a broader change of heart among senior executives to take public positions against what they see as undesirable policy shifts.

This change was first noticeable following Trump’s immigration ban back in January that saw wholesale restrictions on refugees and others from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. As Business Insider reports, “Before the day was over, Facebook's CEO had published a post denouncing the order. By the end of the weekend, Starbucks' CEO had outlined plans to hire 10,000 refugees. And, within a week, Uber's CEO had quit Trump's economic team as thousands deleted their accounts with the ride-hailing app.”

The response by corporate America to the immigration ban was significant and widespread. Rather than the usual caution about taking a political stand on a hot button issue, companies as diverse as Coca Cola, Google, and Ford came out against the policy. The tech industry’s response gained a lot of attention, not only because high profile companies and their leaders such as Sergey Brin at Google actively spoke out against the executive order, but also because regular tech industry employees staged walkouts and protests rarely seen before in the industry. For many in tech, the Atlantic reported, this was the first time they had taken part in political activism in their lives.

 

company-reaction-immigration-ban

 

So what does all this mean? There are a number of ways of looking at this, but the big change for me is that US companies are starting to acknowledge a meaningful role for themselves as explicit political actors. In the past, few company executives would ever admit that their actions were in any way political. “We don’t do politics” was the mantra, despite the billions of dollars spent on lobbying and trying to buy influence in Washington. However, as companies have more openly started addressing issues traditionally thought of as government responsibilities – protecting human rights, providing public goods, enforcing social and environmental standards, and the like – the cloak has gradually slipped.

Scholars of corporate responsibility such as myself have been analysing these developments over the past couple of decades, labelling these new corporate behaviours variously as “corporate citizenship”, “political CSR”, or “private governance”. So the response by corporate America to Trump’s first 100 days is not so much a sudden change in their core corporate responsibility behaviours, more a new found willingness to start acknowledging what has been increasingly apparent all along: corporations do indeed play an explicitly political role.

Acknowledging something is the first step to dealing with it. And the role of business in politics is something that we certainly do need to address as a matter of urgency. Most business leaders may not be completely comfortable yet with admitting their political role, but many do want to start thinking more seriously about their impact on the world, as Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 6,000 word manifesto exemplifies. Further radical announcements from the Trump administration are likely to incite yet more corporate political activism. So while we may not be able to thank President Trump for his impact on the planet, he may yet be responsible for a breakthrough moment in companies’ understandings of their changing role in society.

Header image by Ted Eytan

 

How too much information can stop people from being sustainable consumers

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📥  Consumers, Environment

 

Writing for the Conversation, Dr Peter Nuttall and Prof Avi Shankar consider the challenges of becoming a "sustainable consumer".

Most people would agree that living more sustainably is something to strive for. With £13bn worth of food being wasted each year in the UK and global temperature records being broken every three years, being green is more important than ever. But it’s a lot easier said than done. The Conversation

For the vast majority, trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle is restricted to the weekly recycling of bottles, paper, plastics and food waste. And consuming less also represents a tricky issue for governments when consuming more this year than last year drives economic growth.

An enduring issue remains: what actually is “sustainability” and what does “consuming sustainably” mean in the first place? As David Harvey has pointed out, it can mean almost anything people want it to mean.

In its simplest form, though, sustainable consumption asks that people consider the impact their choices (when it comes to buying things or using energy) will have on future generations’ ability to make their choices. Sadly, the likelihood of the majority acting in this way is small. Most of their everyday consumption choices are made habitually or emotionally and not rationally. As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman noted, people are prone to think fast, driven by our habits and intuitions – and not slowly or thoughtfully.

Information overload

So: how can governments, NGOs – even businesses themselves – encourage people to consume in a more sustainable manner? Currently, the dominant logic is to provide people with more information so they can make more informed decisions about what they spend their money on.

While this may succeed for a minority, in this view information is assumed to be a precursor to changing people’s attitudes and – in due course – their behaviour. The problem is that there is little evidence that information provision does this at all.

It’s also problematic, as people suffer from information overload. Too much information can cause confusion and, if it’s not relevant to them, people will simply ignore it.

However, even people who’ve taken on board the sustainability message find difficulty in practising it. This finding emerged from data collected by one of our former PhD students Cristina Longo (now a researcher at the University of Lille’s business school). To understand the trials and tribulations of trying to live more sustainably, Longo conducted an ethnographic study and embedded herself in the local Transition Network community, a movement that promotes sustainable living.

She spent two years hanging out with people already highly knowledgeable and committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. She attended talks and meetings, and participated in guerrilla gardening, taking care of neglected public spaces, before interviewing members of the community.

Our analysis of these interviews highlighted some major problems when it comes to living out sustainable values – even when you’ve got the best intentions. The paradox of sustainable consumption appears to be that the more you are aware of the issues at stake, the harder you find it to actually live out your values.

Dilemma, tension, paralysis

The more knowledgeable people become with regard to the myriad issues surrounding sustainability, the more this knowledge becomes a source of dilemma. For example, Tessa, a member of the Transition Network with a longstanding interest and understanding of sustainability issues, told us of her “green beans from Kenya dilemma”. For her, green beans from Kenya were definitely a no-no, because of the food miles incurred in flying the beans over. However, she found the clarity she had on this position was undermined when she learned of the social and economic benefits of growing green beans for the local Kenyan farmers.

Also, for those already committed to sustainability ideals, not being able to live up to them becomes a source of considerable tension. Veronica, for example, recounted a story about a talk she’d given on reducing carbon footprints. Afterwards, she drove past a family who’d been at the meeting, who were cycling. Being confronted with not practising what she was preaching was very disconcerting for her. Irene, too, wants to eat locally sourced organic food whenever possible, but on her limited budget finds it expensive to do so. This existential tension that both Veronica and Irene experience is in large part self-inflicted.

We’ve found that the more knowledgeable people become, the more it can result in paralysis or the inability to act on one’s sustainability ideals or goals. One informant Kate described a knowledge tipping point. As she accumulated more and more knowledge that she attempted to put into practice, she also experienced an awareness that her efforts would ultimately be unsustainable. Judith experienced something similar too but saw her failure – in her case to not buy anything shipped over from China – as part of an overall learning process.

Clearly, being a sustainable consumer is problematic and embedding sustainable ideals into everyday life is fraught with difficulties. Until society’s obsession with growth is addressed at a much wider level, sustainable consumption remains a fantasy.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Recycle by Mike

 

Why don’t people associate WWF with Earth Hour? The battle between ‘panda’ and ‘lights out’

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📥  Branding, Consumers, Environment, Giving

 

Dr Zoe Lee asks how a strong brand identity can help charities who increasingly must satisfy both social and environmental goals and fundraising needs.

Recently I asked my postgraduate students if they knew about Earth Hour. Most of them nodded proudly and smiled. But when I asked if they knew who organised it, not many identified World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Some even mentioned Greenpeace. So why don’t they identify Earth Hour with WWF, and how could WWF use Earth Hour more effectively to elevate and energise its brand?

Earth Hour’s success is unquestionable. It has been labelled the largest grassroots social movement on earth, and is one of the world’s fastest growing brands. The initial brief was about how WWF could inspire people to take action on global warming without using fear. A simple idea was born – asking people to switch off the lights for one hour as a symbolic stand. Since then, many landmarks around the world have taken part, including the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Buckingham Palace.

WWF is still deeply stereotyped as cute, cuddly and warm due to its iconic panda image. Earth Hour, on the other hand, continues to gain global recognition, and could be perceived as more competent and hard hitting due to its idea of taking action now. But does this matter to consumers or supporters?

Perhaps not directly. A classic text from Levy and Gardner, “The Product and the Brand”, was a revelation for the branding world. They made explicit for the first time that every advertisement must be considered as a contribution to the complex symbol of brand image – as part of the long-term investment in the reputation of brand. Both the panda and lights off images are powerful and different, yet they are not directly related. Brand managers must accept that consumers see a brand in totality, and consumers and other stakeholders play a huge role in shaping brand meaning. The two different personalities and tones of voice can cause confusion if there is no compelling reason to link them together over time.

In addition to consumer confusions, firms stereotyped as competent are more likely to increase buying behaviour when compared to firms stereotyped as warm. Consumers have greater admiration for firms with high levels of competence and warmth.  This may suggest some clear benefits for WWF to leverage some of the hard hitting and competent identity of the Earth Hour initiative.

Charities usually take a narrow approach to branding – managing external perceptions in return for fundraising success. In contrast, an emerging paradigm recognises brand as a strategic tool to achieve greater change and social impact. Dan Pallotta noted that too many charities are rewarded for how little they spend – not for what they get done. Using donations to fund advertising to raise awareness or change perception is still deeply frowned upon. We need to rethink the role of marketing and advertising and focus on how to start rewarding charities for their accomplishments despite a high marketing spend.

 

Macmillan Cancer Support is a great example of a charity that now uses its brand in a strategic way;  perhaps even behaving like a business by leveraging its warmth and increasing the perception of competency by implementing metrics and return on investments. They engaged in an organisational wide change process to shift negative perceptions of their iconic image, the Macmillan nurse. Although the association with nurses has been perceived as warm and instrumental to fundraising, over time they are perceived negatively as ‘angels of death’. And with a changing cancer story, Macmillan needed to change and transform as a ‘life force’ for cancer survivors. Hence, they have a new brand name and a ‘can do’ attitude to improve the lives of everyone affected by cancer. Fundraising increased by £26 million within two years of this change, and the charity was awarded The Marketing Society’s Brand of the Year in 2014.

A powerful charity brand can help to achieve social as well as fundraising goals, and we should be more open-minded about the role played by brand in fulfilling a charity’s purpose. WWF made remarkable progress when giant pandas were downgraded from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Vulnerable’. For this year’s Earth Hour, there is an effort to incorporate the giant panda image with the #pass the panda initiative, but in a rather ‘soft’ way. Following in Macmillan’s footsteps, WWF could potentially be much bolder in claiming Earth Hour as a WWF project, and one they are very proud of. To make the most of Earth Hour's success, and use the public buy-in to support its main charity objectives, WWF needs to find a coherent message that ties both brands together, because consumers are more likely to believe something when they see it as credible, authentic and relevant to them.

Image: Earth Hour 2016 Berlin by Phossil