Most people’s wallets are slammed shut right now, and an unthinkable number of people face unemployment and loss of business. The coronavirus pandemic offers a painful and unique opportunity to re-envision the economy we want and how we get there.
Business is driven by consumer demand. When there is a great demand, business expands. When there is little demand, business contracts. Government policy aside, this is what shapes the economy.
The good news is that the majority of U.S. consumers want to buy purpose-driven brands that support sustainability. However, despite our intentions, the vast majority of us don’t consistently shop in a way aligned with our values or desires for a sustainable economy.
Here’s how to think about changing consumer demand: Imagine a rider on top of an elephant, trying to get the elephant to go down a specific path. Our mind, intellect and will power (the rider) and our emotional body (the elephant) need to be aligned to make any progress.
When the elephant doesn’t want to budge, the rider is powerless. Likewise, a directionless elephant probably cannot make it down a path without the guidance of a rider.
We can’t spook the elephant or wear out the rider by making it too hard to do “the right thing.” The path also needs to be clear, with no obstacles, boulders or rocks.
This clever behavior change model was developed in “Switch,” by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s our job as sustainability professionals to carve out a new, clear path so that people can shop in a way aligned with their preferences for a sustainable, healthy planet.
This series of columns on GreenBiz will explore why consumer demand for sustainable, climate-friendly products remains insufficient to drive systemic change. In this series, I will examine the consumer’s elephant, rider and the path. And ask: What can we do about it?
With many businesses shuttered, and citizens around the world sheltering in place, economies are dramatically being reshaped. What if we came out of this crisis with a new perspective on our collective impact on the economy, the environment and one another? What would happen if more people than ever before demanded goods aligned with a sustainable, low-carbon economy?
Our economy would transition swiftly.