If you feel a little bit down lately with the U.S. government shutdown, the latest IPPC report, the end of Breaking Bad and other devastating news, we have something that might cheer you up a little.
This is the 2013 Aspirational Consumer Index that was published last week, offering a fresh glimpse into the rise of the Aspirationals, more than a third of the consumers worldwide who are uniting style, social status and sustainability values to redefine consumption. The index offers a positive outlook into the future, where Aspirationals, especially in emerging markets, will “shift in sustainable consumption from obligation to desire.”
While it sounds promising, please note that I mentioned that this news might cheer you up. The reason I’m cautious is not because I don’t believe in the Aspirationals, but because I’m not sure a future shaped by their sustainable shopping habits is necessarily a sustainable one.
Let’s look at the findings of the index and then try to figure out how sustainable the future portrayed there is. The index follows Re:Thinking Consumption, a report published last year by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, where you could learn for the first time about this promising consumer segment called the Aspirationals. These consumers, the authors wrote back then, “are materialistically oriented while at the same time aspiring to be sustainable in their purchases and beliefs.”
By the time you finish reading this article (let’s say 5 minutes from now) 20 children around the world will die because of diarrhea or pneumonia. This is 2 million children every year.
This horrible statistic is even more devastating given the fact that the simple act of handwashing with soap can significantly reduce these diseases – 6 out of these 20 children can be saved with this intervention.
These numbers prompted Lifebuoy, Unilever’s soap brand to start the ‘Help A Child Reach 5’ campaign, aiming to eradicate such preventable deaths one village at a time, by teaching lifesaving handwashing habits. Directly connected to Unilever’s Sustainability Living Plan goals, this campaign is not only a great example of Unilever’s ability to create viral video clips (almost 8 million views so far), but also an acknowledgment of the fact that no company or organization alone, powerful as they might be can change this somber reality by themselves.
To further focus the discussion on the need for partnerships between business, NGOs and governments to accelerate such live-saving programs, Unilever gathered some of the partners it collaborates with in this campaign, including Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Karl Hofmann, President and CEO Population Services International (PSI), and Kajol, a Top Bollywood star. They were joined by Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman on a panel which took place as a part of the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Although the panel’s start time was 7:00am, the panelists were very lively and provided a lot of food for thought. Here are the main four lessons I learned there (or more accurately, three lessons and one question):
Last Thursday McDonald’s made an important step towards becoming McDonald’s 2.0, a Millennial-friendly fast food chain that makes healthy food a more substantial part of its value proposition. In partnership with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the company announced its plans to make significant changes in its menu and marketing, increasing “access to fruits and vegetables to help families make informed choices.”
This is not the first time McDonald’s has taken such steps, but so far these were mainly baby steps. Now, for the first time, it looks like the company is really ready to get serious about embedding healthy food into its business.
How serious? McDonald’s said on Thursday it will provide customers in 20 of its largest markets a choice of a side salad, fruit or vegetable as a substitute for French fries in value meals.
Other important changes are related to the promotion and advertising of Happy Meals: McDonald’s will start promoting and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising, utilize Happy Meal and other packaging designs “to generate excitement for fruit, vegetable, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water options for kids” and ensure 100 percent of all advertising directed to children includes a fun nutrition or children’s well-being message.
So why did McDonald’s announce all of these steps now? In one word: Millennials.
I have to admit: I like eating at Chipotle. I like the food there as well as the idea that I’m eating in a place committed to the concept of “food with integrity,” or “serving the very best sustainably raised food possible with an eye to great taste, great nutrition and great value.”
This is probably the reason I liked The Scarecrow, Chipotle’s latest marketing effort, which includes a YouTube video clip and a game app. After all, how can you not love such a beautiful work of art presenting a strong anti-industrial food production message?
Well, apparently you can. While some think the video is really great, “both on a musical and an animation level,” others questioned the authenticity of the message coming from a chain of over 1,500 restaurants. Funny or Die even came up with a video parody, titled “Honest Scarecrow,” highlighting some of the critiques of the ad’s narrative.
This debate got me thinking – while Chipotle’s campaign obviously tries to present a “disrupt and delight” approach, where the unsustainable status-quo is disrupted in a way that offers consumers delightful solutions, it’s not clear if the result is indeed “disrupt and delight” or “disrupt and dislike.” So which one is it?
Does appearance matter? After all, beauty is only skin deep, right? While we’d like to believe this is the way things should be, life teaches us this is not the case, not even when it comes to fruit and vegetables.
When was the last time you bought ugly fruit or vegetables? A misshapen cucumber, a deformed carrot, or a discolored zucchini? You probably have a hard time remembering because these sorts of ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables are screened and thrown away before they reach the supermarket’s shelves to ensure customers see only fruits and vegetables with perfect (or near perfect) shape, size, and color.
The result is that we have a wasteful food system – in the UK, for example, according to the Soil Association, 20-40 percent of produce is rejected because it’s misshapen. If you wonder why the produce doesn’t get used for canned goods or processed foods rather than being sent to the landfill, NRDC’s report on the wasteful American food system has the answer, “Although some off-grade products — those that are not of a quality grade to sell to major markets – go to processing, many do not. Most large processors have advanced contracts with suppliers and often require specific attributes that make the product amenable to processing,” it explains.
The size of this wasteful phenomenon has driven a growing number of entrepreneurs and organizations to look for ways to change this unsustainable reality.
One of latest effort is the ‘ugly fruit’ campaign from three German students trying to make the case that selling ugly produce is not just about being more sustainable but also about taking advantage of a business opportunity. But are the students right? Is there really a business case for selling ugly fruit and vegetables?
Hearing about Coca Cola Enterprises’ (CCE) new sustainability initiative in the UK designed to boost the reuse and recycling of plastic bottles, my expectations were pretty high. After all, CCE, the largest Coca-Cola bottler in Western Europe, is known to be taking sustainability seriously and is even considered one of the leaders in exploring consumer behavior change.
Therefore I hoped the ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign would be strong, maybe even as progressive and exciting as CCE’s ‘Recycle for the Future’ study, wherein the company teamed up with university researchers to closely observe the dynamics that drive waste disposal and recycling in the homes of 20 French and English families.
Unfortunately I was dead wrong. If ‘Recycle for the Future’ was all about the future of using brand marketing to encourage recycling, ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign is all about the past and not necessarily in a good way.
In fairness, maybe my expectations of CCE were too high in the first place because of its impressive track record, but please read the following description of the campaign and tell me if it doesn’t have a ‘90s feel to it:
The latest example that more is not necessarily better comes from CVS, where its absurdly long paper receipts have generated a public outcry on social media. It wasn’t the first time customers complained about the wasted paper, but the receipts got a lot of attention last week after Matt Brownell reported on Daily Finance about a coworker at AOL who bought a single item at CVS and received a 38-inch receipt.
CVS explained that this was its way to inform its ExtraCare rewards program members about coupons and rewards. In the age of apps and eReceipts, that answer felt unsatisfactory to many and the outcry became viral with the help of Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, where a new account, ‘CVS Receipt’ gave people a stage to demonstrate their irritation creatively:
— Frank Cappiello (@frankjcapp) August 28, 2013
From time to time you see an article or study challenging one of your beliefs. This is exactly what happened to me when reading a recent article about ConvergEx, a brokerage firm warning its clients that the ripple effects the sharing economy could be “catastrophic.”
The argument ConvergEx made was that the sharing economy can hurt the overall economy because people share and rent rather than buying stuff. This behavior shift might lead them to become more risk-averse and even think twice before getting into debt.
The crisis-sparked renting and sharing economy could have an effect similar to that of the Depression, in which the consumer psyche is morphed to constantly imagine a worst-case-scenario. The recent recession, arguably, could be fostering a generation of ‘renters’ and ‘sharers’ (as opposed to ‘savers’) who are wary of potentially risky investment vehicles or financial instruments.
You might wonder what’s so bad about people who are wary of potentially risky investment vehicles but it only means you’re not working for a brokerage firm.
Nevertheless, questioning the value of the sharing economy isn’t a bad thing, so I decided to take a closer look at the main claims ConvergEx makes in order to determine if they have merits.
Living within your means can have a negative impact on the economy. Is this a bad thing?
“Materiality is like packing a backpack for a hike: you can only bring the supplies that are absolutely critical, otherwise the weight will slow you down and eventually bring you to your knees.”
This great quote by Gary Niekerk, Director of Global Citizenship at Intel, opens Redefining Materiality II, a new report written by Marcy Murninghan for AccountAbility, which aims to help companies understand the current materiality landscape, or in other words – what they should take into consideration now when packing their backpack.
You might think that 10 years after AccountAbility published its first Redefining Materiality report, it would be easier for companies to figure out what’s material and what isn’t when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. Yet, in a way it looks like things have become more complex. “The boundaries between corporations, the environment and society continue to blur,” explains Ted Grant, Head of Global Research and Development at AccountAbility.
But not to worry, the report is here to help. Here are five important lessons:
1. Shareholder resolutions are a good indicator of present ESG concerns – One of the questions companies constantly struggle with is what ESG issues are highly material to investors and other stakeholders. The resolutions shareholders file in an effort to influence companies’ policies and practices provide a good indicator on what these issues are.
Farmigo has been one of the startups getting more attention in the food sector, with a mission of creating a healthy alternative food system and $10 million in funding so far to make this a reality. In its four years of operation, the company has been evolving from an online software provider helping farms to manage their CSA subscriptions to creating and managing communities of people interested in buying local food directly from multiple farms.
Now the company is getting ready for its next evolutionary step, enabling entrepreneurs, or Champions, as Farmigo calls them, to start their own food communities. To learn more about the new program, I talked with Benzi Ronen, Farmigo’s co-founder and CEO. Here’s an edited version of the interview:
TriplePundit: Can you tell us about the new Champions program and how it is different from your current model?
Benzi Ronen: In general, Farmigo has been looking at the different ways we can get healthy food to consumers around the country. When we started the company four years ago, that was our mission. Initially, we started off by focusing on farms that want to sell directly to consumers, like CSA models. We come from a background of software, so we built an internet technology to enable farms to manage a farm-direct business.
Jeff Bezos is “someone who is constantly looking at the long term, says journalist Brad Stone, the author of the upcoming book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. “Unlike the typical financial investor, moreover, Jeff Bezos really is focused on the long term,” writes Henry Blodget on the Business Insider.
Stone and Blodget aren’t alone. After the news broke last week that Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million, everyone, from the commentators to reporters seemed to share the notion that Jeff Bezos is a long-term guy.
But is it true? Does Jeff Bezos really have a long-term view? I decided to look at it through Amazon’s record on sustainability – after all, in business, adopting a sustainable approach and long-term thinking go hand-in-hand, and usually you can’t have the one without the other.
But Jeff Bezos seems to think he can.
Jerry Seinfeld once said: “One of the great mysteries to me is the fact that a woman can pour hot wax on her legs, rip the hair out by the root and still be afraid of a spider.” I have a feeling a new study on what purchasing designer handbags and shoes means for women will only add to this mystery.
The study, which will be published on the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, suggests some women also seek these luxury items to prevent other women from stealing their man. The researchers found that “women’s luxury products often function as a signaling system directed at other women who pose a threat to their romantic relationships.”
I have to admit these results seemed a bit weird to me at first, but maybe this was only because I’m a man and never really understood why anyone would be interested in buying a $38,000 handbag. Still I was intrigued by the study and what its findings mean for the future of sustainable consumption. After all, if we want to reach a more sustainable future, we need to do a better job understanding the way all consumers think.
Who has even heard of Kering? Until a few months ago it was knowns as PPR. However, you might know some of the 18 brands it owns like Puma, Gucci, Stella McCartney and Saint Laurent.
While the Kering name might be unknown to many it is actually one of the prominent leaders in the business sector when it comes to sustainability, from the release of the first-ever Environmental Profit & Loss account (EP&L) by Puma in 2011 to Kering’s involvement in creating the B Team earlier this year.
Kering is the quiet type among the group of sustainable leaders which is why I was glad for the opportunity to meet with Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Laurent Claquin, head of Kering Americas at a recent New York media briefing. (Full disclosure: Kering picked up the tab for the lunch).
Our conversation focused on the company’s overall approach to sustainability and the challenges it faces moving forward. The following summarizes some of the main issues raised in this conversation. They showcase the path Kering is taking and also provide some good lessons to other companies interested in following in their footsteps.
Last week, we witnessed a new wave of one-day strikes of fast food workers fighting to achieve an ambitious goal: increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. These strikes brought back to public attention the debate over minimum wage and its economic and social impacts, as well as the unavoidable question: How much would a Big Mac actually cost if workers at McDonald’s were being paid $15 per hour?
While the answer to this question provides some sort of indication as to the level of change required of McDonald’s and other fast food chains to provide their employees with a decent paycheck, it probably doesn’t help us much in understanding the issue we’re facing.
Why? Because the issue here is not about pricing or even human rights, but about innovation and design thinking. The question we should ask is not if McDonald’s can adjust its pricing model to a new wage level or not, but in what way McDonald’s will choose to redesign its business model.
First, let’s get the Big Mac question off the table. The Daily Beast created a McPoverty calculator that lets you see how your extra cents could translate into real-life wages based on the work of economists Jeannette Wicks-Lim and Robert Pollin. Using this calculator, the price of Big Mac would need to increase by 22 cents to enable workers at McDonald’s to make $15.23 per hour, or $31,671.83 per year.
Having the largest university endowment in the U.S. ($30.7 billion), Harvard finds itself in a club it might not want to be a part of. This club includes companies like Apple, McDonald’s, H&M and Walmart and the common denominator is that its members often find themselves under close scrutiny over social and environmental issues, even if they’re far from being the only ones having them, due to their size and impact.
In Harvard’s case, the issue is the divestment campaign, which is trying to convince universities and colleges to divest their endowments’ investments from 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies.
If Harvard agrees to divest its investments, it could be a game changer for the campaign, probably making it a lot easier for other universities to do it, too. So far, Harvard has been very firm in its refusal to divest itself from fossil fuels. “We always appreciate hearing from students about their viewpoints, but Harvard is not considering divesting from companies related to fossil fuels,” Kevin Galvin, a university spokesman told The New York Times last December.
Yet, last week Harvard Management Company (HMC), which manages the university’s endowment, announced that Jameela Pedicini will become its first vice president of sustainable investing. “We will be looking to Jameela as our subject matter expert on current industry practices, possible partnerships related to ESG investing, and on issues of interest emerging on Harvard’s campus,” said Kathryn Murtagh, HMC’s managing director.
So what does this appointment mean? Is Harvard getting closer to saying ‘Yes’ to the divestment campaign, or is it just a lip service gesture to the students?