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The historic failure of COP27 puts the future of the planet in the hands of brands

As Cop 27 continues the age-old debate over whether wealthier countries should pay climate change compensation to those most affected, it is brands that have the real power to make immediate and meaningful changes.

With highly engaged global audiences and ridiculously frequent consumer transactions, global brands have more opportunity to effect change than governments struggling to move beyond ‘talk’, seemingly hounded by lobbyists, and increasingly facing a disillusioned populace .

So why aren’t more brands doing more?

I have witnessed discussions over the years where large companies argue that they cannot afford to “leave consumers behind” and that they need to take “small steps” towards becoming a green and sustainable business.

Nonsense.

These days, speed is everything in business in every way. And because of the lack of action from international talkfests like COP, that’s even more true when it comes to a brand’s impact on the planet.

Ironically, thanks to some of the world’s biggest polluters, consumers have come to expect same-day purchases, food within 15 minutes, and any whim to be readily indulged. Yet many global brands are glaringly pushing for major overhauls of ingredients, materials, packaging and energy use.

However, history – even recent history – proves that brands can make fundamental changes overnight (more often than not, ultimately growing their business).

Just look at what happened to the beer industry in the UK when Anthony Simmons-Gooding switched Whitbread beer from bottles to cans overnight. Consumers couldn’t get enough of it. And the whole industry had to follow suit. (The same thing happened with the switch to lager.)

So when Yvon Chouinard announced that Patagonia had made Earth its sole shareholder,

by pumping all future profits into the protection of Mother Earth, the brand became even more sought after by consumers overnight. In addition, the brand broke through the polycrisis of 2022 with stories across a wide range of B2C and B2B media, endless social media mentions, it was one of the few positive news stories to resonate this year.

It’s this kind of bold leadership from big, global brands that we need today. Not another COP-out conference with over 35,000 people flying for a photo-op sponsored for the fifth year in a row by the world’s largest plastic polluter.

Brands have the opportunity to lead and consumers are increasingly seeking climate leadership, so now is the time for brands to step out of the shadows and make groundbreaking decisions that deliver decent profits to both the planet and shareholders.

Much like how creativity outperforms average advertising in our industry, there is masses of evidence proving when a brand truly supports the planet, consumers support the brand, and investors’ profits grow. B Corps are lauded for growing faster than non-B Corps and the UK is now home to over 1,000 28% in the past year. Consumers are quickly turning to support brands that put their money where they belong.

For those in need of a little more encouragement, just check out the likes of Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion – two sustainability consultants who grew tired of boardroom greenwashing hunger and went it alone to launch sustainable sneaker brand, Veja. launch and they have sold 3 million pairs to date. Since they took the plunge, we’ve seen TOMs, allbirds, and other sustainable brands hit the market, resulting in consumer demand that has forced Nike and Adidas to launch sustainable lines as well.

In short, the world cannot wait for reversible, ‘negotiable’ and often ‘optional’ global government alignments. As business leaders, we can’t wait for another disappointing COP. We know what we need to do to reduce climate change and the impact of brands on the world. Waiting will only cost us more in the long run as climate disrupts supply chains, creates shortages and large-scale migration – none of which contribute to a positive trade environment.

Nor can big business excuse the lack of progress on the need to see consumer demand first. As Steve Jobs is famous for saying, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.

Without a doubt, we need more Yvon Chouinard today to take more heroic steps to quell climate change. After all, it’s good for business, not to mention the planet.

Malcolm Poynton is global CCO at Cheil Worldwide

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