I know you are going to be flooded and fooled by a million pieces of cool new trends for 2015. Yawn ... How about trends we want to see the end of in 2015? Here are the few I would really like to wave goodbye to this year.
1. The circular distraction
Can we stop making up new jargon for old and tested ideas? Just because some hipster and cooler-than-us-old-skool-sustainability-nerds kid comes up with a fancy new name doesn't mean it is actually a new idea. A few years ago it was "shared value" that got under my skin - packaging what we've been doing for a while into a brand new box. Now everyone is on about the circular economy ... Really? Nice that the rest of the world is catching up with what has been at the forefront of sustainability thinking since John Elkington and others opened Pandora's sustainability box. It's not new. Just a shiny new name but really a circular distraction.
2. "Everything is sustainable"
No it isn't. Sustainability is a simple concept of making sure the impact we have today does not impact the ability of future generations to enjoy living on this earth and using those same resources. Simple, right? Then how can tobacco companies call what they do sustainability? They know what the end product does actually kills future generations of potential users. That's the easy one. Same goes for companies dependent on fossil fuels for their existence. You take stuff from the ground and then use it in a way that doesn't make it possible to use it again. Yeah, that's not sustainable. You can be a responsible company, but your main product is not sustainable.
Let's not confuse the issues, and let's call it what it is. A hat is a hat. A dog is a dog. Sustainability is sustainability. CSR is CSR. Stick with the accepted definitions. Leave it to politicians to redefine language each election cycle.
3. Disruption is not innovative
Maybe all of this comes down to the words we use. But if I have to hear someone wanting to be 'disruptive' or 'innovative' again and then the actual experience is bland and boring ... Please stop it. Tesla was disruptive and innovative. The iPhone was disruptive and innovative. To be disruptive and innovative you have to disrupt and innovate -- not copy and repeat whatever everyone else did. Please note I said Tesla and the iPhone WERE disruptive and innovative. Not anymore. Now they’re old news. Still good news but old news nonetheless. Stay edgy. Do the unexpected. Fail often. But don't rinse and repeat thinking that was disruptive. And BE it. You don't walk into a party and say, "I am the heart and soul of the party." People will quickly know you aren't. You simply party hard and let people see and experience you -- by engaging with you. Marketing, old school PR, advertising, etc. – boring. Not innovative and not disruptive. What is? Well, you know where to get in touch with me.
4. The pitch
The press release is dead. Do it, but it is simply not worth much today when it comes to developing relations with the public. A press release is a message pushed by you and not a point of engagement. It is boring. And while we are on the media: Stop counting media impressions and think that is engagement. It isn't. It was just what was in the media. When did you last use that personally to engage with someone? Start engaging and measure real impact. Not just your words.
5. Intangible goals
Sustainability goals are available today for a dime a dozen. Having a clear path of how you are going to get there though is a different story! Set some big, hairy, audacious goals instead of "reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2020" or "reducing water use by 40 percent by 2040." Those are peanuts and, beyond the kitschy appeal of your wordsmithing, will have limited impact in a world where emissions will choke us before you reach your goal.
So, why not make them really challenging and be clear about the path you will follow to get there? And call us sustainability geeks for help if you don't know how to do either of those. We are happy to help. Just tweet using #sustainability if you don't know how to find any of us. And the same goes for using GRI -- stop using it to say you used it. Use it to guide your actions or don't use it at all. It makes you look silly.
6. Silly awards and rankings
Just stop it with telling me about all those awards and rankings you placed on. Most of them don’t make sense, and your consumer couldn't care less. Look around at the other companies on the list. Why did they make the list? Yeah, "what the *#$&?" is the correct reaction. I can't believe they made the list either. And please don't send a press release telling us about your awesome award. And expecting it to result in a valid news story.
7. Softballs and leadership
Leadership means taking on the toughest of issues and not picking the issues on which you can have no impact. Like education ... Nice issue because you can't really solve it yet no one can disagree with your focus. Pick issues that you can impact and change -- measurably.
So, if you are a tech company making hardware but focusing on education, please sort out your sourcing pipeline for conflict minerals first and stop people from jumping off of buildings because of over work. If you could solve that issue, that would be a step forward for education.
Leaders lead, they don't huddle. Stop thinking that every company that is registered as a business is your friend or just a competitor. Some companies and their leaders are actively promoting and/or creating a world that will make it impossible for your business to exist. For example, climate change threatens some of the crops that we love like coffee, cocoa, etc. Companies that do not act to stop or slow down climate change
are your enemies. Their actions are a direct threat to your business. Do not be friends with them. Don't share platforms with them. Stop hanging out in the same associations as them. It makes you look weak when you huddle with those who support your idea of a tax break but are directly involved in killing your business as well.
Leaders lead from the front. Leaders speak out loudly against those who threaten them and those they care for. Leaders don't huddle. Stop huddling. Decide if you truly want to lead and if you want your business to be here in 20 and 30 year from now. If yes to the above, then lead.
9. It is NOT "in your DNA"
I have a new set of [three] rules when I start talking to any company about sustainability. I don’t want to ever read or hear about these: "It's in our DNA," "we're on a journey" and "our employees are our greatest asset." Puh-leaze. Stop. It. Sustainability is not in your DNA, making money is. Everyone is on a journey. And I hope you haven't fired or "downscaled" in the last five years because you just got rid of the crown jewels -- your employees.
Moreover, these statements also tell me absolutely nothing about you and what makes you unique. In fact, they show that you have no clue about what you should do or say or even your perspective on sustainability. And that means it is not in your DNA.
10. "______": Fill in the gap yourself. Stop trying to make every list a nice round number. Sometimes you should just stop when you have nothing more to say.
So, there you have it. The list of things I hope we won't see again in 2015. But I bet you we will because it is in your DNA...
Image credit: Flickr/marfis75
A special thanks to all my colleagues and friends - Aman, Josh, Elise, Mark, Erica, Charity, Veronica, Kriti and Peter for their ideas in creating this anti-wish list for 2015.
A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher. Senior Vice President, Business + Social Purpose and Managing Director of Sustainability at Edelman (www.edelman.com) out in the Wild West of San Francisco. Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie – @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. His new book, Creating a Sustainable Brand is available here.
Follow Henk Campher on Twitter.