I really wasn’t going to do this piece: the standard trends piece for the new year. Last year I wrote about the distractions we can do without in 2015, and this year I decided to stay out of the game of predicting anything for 2016. But I just couldn’t stay away — there were too many pieces on trends that really got to me.
So, here we go: a randomly-selected number of supposed trends for 2016, along with solutions for moving past them. Some of these “trends” are stale (old and not new), and some of them are just pale (not going to happen). Hey, I even threw in a few ideas on how we can stop making these silly trend predictions.
To ensure no ego gets hurt in the making of this piece, I decided against naming the specific articles I read as I wrote this. But I read pieces in the following publications: Greenbiz, Forbes, Huffington Post, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, TriplePundit, the Guardian, and even Carbon Trust and Frontstream.
1. The consumer
Apparently, 2016 is when the consumer is going to step up and be the game-changer. One of the trends pieces even pointed to a Nielsen study showing that 66 percent of consumers will pay more for a product that comes from companies “that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.”
Please picture my eyes rolling on this one. Cone Communications had that statistic back in 2006. Edelman had the same statistic in its Good Purpose study of 2008. And it is now a trend? Just simply lazy.
Solution: The consumer is already there, and the biggest challenge is how business adapts to the changing consumer landscape and not the other way around.
2. The millennial
Millennials are going to be the big agents of social change in 2016. They are the drivers to make sustainability mainstream.
Firstly, this is the same group of millennials that gave us the Kardashian clan and the selfie. Don’t hold your breath for them to be the sole drivers of all the good. We have to take their bad with their good. But more importantly, the millennials have already changed the world and will continue to do so. Nothing new to see folks — just people changing the world. And remember, none of these millennials are even at school anymore.
Solution: Stop seeing each consumer group as a unified group. They are diverse and unique, and the more we treat them as individuals and focus our interaction with them on a personal level, the better. And remember, money doesn’t matter whether it is in the hands of a 60-, 25- or 12-year-old. The only challenge is how you interact with them at their level in their way. That is why it is called engagement …
3. Green energy
At last, green energy is here to save us. The big trend is the decline of renewable energy prices. We can all breathe easy, clean air now.
You see the problem with the logic in this one? Of course renewable energy prices will go down. Who expected anything else? More money, more research, more capacity, greater efficiencies, new technologies, etc. It all points in one simple direction: prices going down. It’s how the world works.
Solution: Focus on this growth and get away from the anti-fossil fuel mentality. Green energy is winning because people instinctively like the renewable idea no matter what side of the political spectrum. But going after a dying industry (fossil fuels) makes you look vindictive and shows a lack of courage. We have won this battle; now start acting like winners.
4. Mainstreaming CSR
2015 was when business started mainstreaming corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is going to become their heart and soul. Their purpose.
Except they didn’t. Every good company is still balanced out by a bad company. For every good company fighting climate change, there is another paying off a climate denier or API to fight climate change action. CSR is not mainstream yet. Maybe more people use the word, but we are still in as much trouble as before.
Solution: Stop worrying about businesses mainstreaming sustainability. They either have a purpose or they are selling snake oil. Snake oil sellers aren’t going to see the light because their product remains snake oil. But the companies that already have it as part of their business model are kicking their asses. We don’t need more “mainstreaming of CSR” arguments if those on our side are kicking the asses of those on the other side. They are already doing it today. Patagonia is walloping their competition. Toms Shoes is kicking butt. And Unilever. And, so on … All of these companies have put their purpose at the center of their business and are thriving. Mainstream businesses are sleeping while the revolution is happening. And that is good for us.
This is a big bucket, but this trend never ends. Either reporting is going to become mainstream, or materiality is going to be the new hot topic, or social media will be the next big thing in reporting.
What the heck have you been reporting on if it isn’t material to your company? And who helped you with that? You really need new consultants. You are either reporting what is important or you are the next Jackie Collins of sustainability with a much lower readership. And welcome to 2010 if you now use social media in reporting. I think we did that at Starbucks in 2009 and Best Buy in 2010 …
Solution: Stop writing silly reports no one will read. Know the limitations of these reports — they are meant to take stock, and only a handful of stories are really interesting enough for people to pay attention for maybe five minutes. Know what you want to achieve with the report and don’t oversell the importance of it. It is one tool — only one.
6. The end of carbon
This might be slightly controversial because of so many people still high on COP21. The reality is that we are simply not one inch closer to stopping climate change. We have nice words and an apparent agreement on a framework, but nothing we are doing today is going to stop climate change from slowly choking humans off this earth. A bit of a downer, but I never said everything will be fun.
Solution: The sad truth is that the revolution we need to stop/slow down climate change won’t happen soon. We will keep getting new frameworks and fancy words. This war will be won one battle at a time. One company transformation after another. One renewable energy source at a time. We are in it for the long run and must be mentally ready for the long run. Don’t try to sell the battle short by thinking we have turned a corner.
This was the year of the circular economy. No wait, I think that was last year. 2015 was ThriveAbility. Before that we had shared values. A new year, a new dress for old ideas and practices. Let’s make 2016 the year of the NoConceptAvism. We are like Trotskyist — put two in a room and you have an immediate disagreement. We can’t even agree on the oldest concepts of CSR, sustainability or citizenship.
Solution: Just stop. Just like the consumer, each business is unique and different. Each one offers a different solution and has a different value proposition. Some of them have the essence of their purpose in their products. Some need to focus more on supply chains. Others simply require a connection between a solution and a need. Each one is different, and that is why reporting and awards are so silly — they measure generics in a world of the personal. Just don’t come up with a new fancy thing. Just do the action and measure it.
I will leave it there for now. There are many others I would like to add to this list of non-trends we should not start celebrating yet — measurement (social impact, outcomes versus inputs), diversity, employee engagement, cause marketing, big data, water, transparency, development, global versus local, cities are good/no bad, social media, supply chains, partnerships, social enterprises versus nonprofits, etc. Too many to list. But hey — the one trend I know you will see in 2016 is me writing about all of these — tongue firmly in cheek and always having a bit of fun.
Here’s to 2016. May the trend forever be on your side.
Image credit: Pixabay