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We should all be actively involved in collective work, meaning work not focused on the next big quarter but instead on tearing down the collective apathy of our future.
This is the work of our lives: not against the government or each other or to collectively make someone a billionaire many times over. Instead, it is the work that we do every day applied to the biggest issues of our time. Brands need to wake up to climate change and not just marketing departments. We need to stop greenwashing and start “greenworking.”
Across industries we need to take a more critical look at what companies are doing to promote and positively impact the environment. Are you creating a 2% reduction in water costs by asking people to re-use the sheets in their hotel rooms? If hotels wanted to make more substantive changes to the environment, they would need to determine how to become carbon negative or carbon-neutral producers. That’s what makes a climate-friendly business. And the same rules apply to every other company in every other industry.
The number of the companies that think they are creating world-changing solutions is staggering. That video game is not going to solve the climate crisis, and neither is that new app nor that digital whiteboard. Do you know what is world-changing? Hardware (predominantly) solutions that help us to protect our oceans, reduce carbon emissions, micro-filter plastics from rivers and streams and protect underwater aquifers. That’s where we all need to work harder to create something that will actually be a game-changing solution.
At no time is this more important than now. Covid-19 is a pandemic but it is still not the greatest global crisis of our time. The pandemic escalation of Covid-19 is symptomatic of many complex and unprepared systems struggling to deal with a growing threat: economic, healthcare and global supply chains to name a few. So, too, climate change is symptomatic of struggling and failing systems. In fact, our changing climate and the industries that create climate change also created some of the conditions that allowed for the rapid spreading of the pandemic. Our short-term crisis is recovering from Covid-19; our long-term crisis is saving the world from ourselves.
All industries and companies are responsible for our collective future. While in the middle of a pandemic, it can be hard to think two or three weeks ahead. However, now more than ever we need to make plans for the future because when we all recover from Covid-19, there will still be a huge number of threats to the health of our species and our planet. We must triage for the most urgent, but we must also make sure that in triaging for the most urgent we are not losing sight of other deadly problems.
Not all of us can be healthcare workers but all of us can do something. Regardless of your job function, you can actively work to create a more resilient and habitable world.
That’s what greenworking is about. It is about committing our time and resources to do things that make a difference. It is not marketing things that don’t make a difference as green solutions, which is greenwashing.
I challenge marketing departments to this: push back. Don’t greenwash products because it is an easy win. It is not, and soon customers will be calling you out (if they aren’t already). Instead, encourage your companies to greenwork and actually do the work to become a green company.
No more talking. It’s time for doing, and you can start here by reallocating company funds.
Encourage your company to allocate 10% of its R&D budget to fighting climate change. Want to take it one step forward? Encourage your company to create a fund that pools money for the entire industry. Imagine if Zara, H&M, Forever 21 and Gap agreed to co-fund an industry group that could improve the entire footprint of fashion.
Encourage your company to allocate 10% of its marketing resources to participating in, planning for and understanding the coming climate crisis. I’m guessing here, but that’s probably the same amount that’s spent on CSR campaigns intended to make your company look good. What if you didn’t have to look good? What if you were just good? Work toward that.
Working for our future is the job of every single person. It means the survival of our planet, and it requires marketers to not stand idly by and peddle products that have no substantive benefit for our planet.
When we greenwash, we harm our environment and ourselves. When we greenwork, we take steps to a healthier, more habitable future.