Human beings. We’re an interesting bunch with fascinating habits, but so easily blinkered from seeing the real consequences of our actions.
Take Rapa Nui (Easter Island) for example: a remote and now uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. It’s famous for the mysterious giant Moai statues, permanent reminders of a civilisation long since past, the result of a tribal culture that gave power and significance to the creators of the biggest statue.
The competition was fierce, as was the demand on the island’s resources, which ultimately led to deforestation and the destruction of the ecosystem.
The demise of the Rapa Nui islanders has been a subject of fascination with historians, anthropologists and environmentalists. I think it’s of interest for brand thinkers too. You can look at the loss of this civilisation as a result of the power of branding and image. The importance of their brand image – that quest for power and significance – had the potential to alter their behaviour and sidetrack their focus. They failed to stop their self-destructive behaviour and paid the ultimate price.
Fast forward a few hundred years and our fossil-fuelled, fast-paced, over-consumerism has filled our oceans with plastic, drained our rivers dry and is destroying our rainforests. I don’t want to over-simplify a very serious and complex situation, but from my perspective working in a brand design agency, I can see how our brands have played a pivotal role in shaping a culture of consumerism and waste-addicted behaviour – just as it may have shaped events on Easter Island. I can also see how brand can be part of the solution, to drive change and make a real and positive difference.
Sir David Attenborough said on climate change:
“Many individuals are doing what they can. But real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics.”
And nothing has greater power in determining the way societies behave than our brands.
What’s becoming ever more clear is that our current rate of consumption isn’t sustainable. We have built an appetite for more, more, more. A 2017 report “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future” by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years with fast fashion brands proving to be very successful: Missguided has reported a 97% profit surge year on year.
But this has to be short-lived. An economy that relies on the continual use of finite resources cannot last. So I’m encouraged to see a host of new disruptor brands that have seen the opportunity and are redefining the brand and consumer relationship, creating a new one that reaches out to people on more equal terms, because it’s aligned to their values. We feel like we are in it together to make a positive difference, paving the way for a more sustainable future.
Brands & Sustainability
Recent start-up The Resolution Store makes pre-loved clothes fashionable with a focus on creating a unique and special shopping experience to surpass buying brand new. It cleverly uses the power of social media’s fashion influencers, normally reserved to promote brand new clothes, with influencer edits of the second-hand clothes, giving them a whole new desirability factor. It’s an attractive shopping proposition whilst also being sustainable.
But what about the older established brands whose roots are in out-dated mass-consuming business models? Nike is showing us how it is possible to change by embracing the idea of the “circular economy“. The brand is championing an economic model that plans to end waste and pollution with about 75 per cent of the materials in its shoes and apparel consisting of some recycled content. Last year they used the equivalent of one billion plastic bottles to produce their recycled polyester, believing that sustainability has to happen at scale, in order to drive sustainable innovation.
There’s a lot going on here. To be sustainable we need to overhaul the way we produce, consume, and design, with branding as our persuasive vessel for delivering the sustainability message that could change our behaviour. It’s encouraging to see more and more influential brands focusing on sustainability and in turn forging new relationships with their consumers.
Are we moving fast enough to make a difference? Only time will tell.
Discover how mark-making* are supporting brands to do better here.