18 Feb 2022
I remember back when stand-up comics joked about ‘recycled’ loo paper being brown. When vegans were weedy weirdo’s rather than cage fighters. When global warming sounded like a good idea on a cold day.
In a focus-group two decades ago a lady corrected me that ‘biodiversity’ was actually ‘biological washing powder’. And even change-makers were convinced we’d never be able to talk about either flying or meat-consumption in relation to climate change.
Today, so many of those issues have gone from invisible issues, or the butt of jokes, to everyday reality. Globally, over 70% of people now recognise the Sustainable Development Goals. If the leaks are to be believed, then reducing flying and meat consumption will be a formal part of the United Nations IPCC WG3 report on how to tackle climate change.
For decades I’ve watched, and been part of making, issues that were once considered ‘alternative’ become so mainstream it’s easy to forget they were ever considered niche.
Yet, when I try to convince brand and business leaders that more of these issues are heading mainstream, they are still dubious! I’m getting a little tired of saying ‘told you so’ when leaders are sideswiped by another crucial issue that could be seen coming for years.
So, here are 5 issues that have morphed into movements that are changing the world and 1 that is coming so fast that if you don’t already have a clear plan for it, then you’re going to be left behind.
In the days of Tofurkey and long-life soy milk, veganism was a lifestyle choice made by a radical few. Go back even as recently as 2014, and there were just 150,000 vegans in the UK – around 0.2% of the population. A Cowspiracy documentary, millions of Impossible burgers and even more cartons of oat milk later, and this figure has now risen to an estimated 8%. This shift is happening in countries all over the world. And among those who have not yet adopted the ‘vegan’ label, many are eating less meat. All signs point to an ever more plant-based future.
For generations of women, their calls for equality were dismissed as unnatural and uncaring, and corporations and brands steered clear. But today, feminism is still a fight, but one played out on central stages. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In has sold over 4 million copies, the first annual women’s march in 2017 attracted 100,000 protestors in London alone, and the Instagram account @feminist has 6.4 million followers. Young people in particular consider feminism to be central to their identity, with more than two thirds of 18-24 year olds identifying as feminists. There’s still a lot of work to be done to achieve gender equality and make feminism truly intersectional, but the demands for change aren’t going away anytime soon (or indeed, ever).
Traditional conservation campaigns used images of death and destruction to prompt people to help save species and habitats – think caged monkeys, tuskless elephants and lonely rhinos. Campaigners have more recently come to understand the importance of putting humans back into the picture, and cultivating the image of humans and non-human species co-existing happily. And it’s working: Google search data shows that public interest in conservation has been rising since 2004. We can expect to see this trend emerge particularly strongly among young people in the coming years.
This is a favourite of mine, proving how entire industries can ignore (or block) a change then scramble to jump on the bandwagon just as it’s passed them. In just a few years we went from documentaries on ‘who killed the electric car’ to Tesla overturning every comfortable assumption in Detroit. Even Bond has gone electric. It’s thanks to their desirability that electric vehicles accounted for over 11% of UK car sales in 2021, almost doubling on the previous year. And as the momentum builds, barriers to buying a green car – cost, range and a lack of charging points – are quickly being dismantled. There are now a reported 10 million electric cars on the road. And smart entrepreneurs in multiple different industries are taking note of that trajectory.
You can probably think of so many other topics that have moved into the spotlight. But one that is so central to solving our interconnected issues is still dangerously neglected in boardrooms.
Climate action and social justice are the same movement, particularly for the communities suffering the consequences of climate change who are not causing it. Let’s be clear, this idea is not new. The intersection between our climate emergency and growing inequity was central by grassroots protests in the 1980s, and the first Climate Justice Summit took place over 20 years ago. But too few leaders took note of the need to approach climate action with justice and equity, especially in businesses where ‘environmental’ and ‘social’ issues are still managed by different teams.
That needs to change, and fast. At last year’s COP26, the words ‘climate justice’ and ‘just transition’ were included for the first time in a political declaration. The spotlight is now not only on climate action, but on the impact climate change and its solutions are having on those first and worst affected. Ask yourself, do you know what climate justice is? Do you have a plan to incorporate your efforts on human right with your Net Zero plans? Have you updated your ESG plan to a ESJ strategy?
There’s a whole universe of emerging movements, solutions and paradigm shifting changes coming, and if climate justice isn’t already on your agenda then it needs to be. Because in the 2020’s unfamiliar ideas become strategic priorities faster than ever.