Choice Informed Decisions Better World

When 'Better' is Better than 'Best'

By Taylor Gray, Ph.D. on June, 27 2021

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Taylor Gray, Ph.D.

The world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens. I remain focused on developing meaningful and actionable insights from empirical data in pursuit of a better world.

We want to be intentional in the impacts of our shopping, but trying to identify which products best align with the issues we care about can be frustrating. With so many brands reporting their efforts to reduce their impacts in ways specific to themselves, and with even more simply not sharing any insight into their impacts at all, it becomes almost impossible to make a clear comparison of one brand to the next...even when both brands are producing the same type of product!

We started Motive to address this situation. Choosing good products for a better world should not be difficult. Making the decisions we want to make should not be frustrating. With Motive RealScores you can quickly compare standardized scoring of brand impacts across the issues you care about--what once took weeks to accomplish can now be done in a matter of seconds. 

But this is not another blog about what we do at Motive...I’ve already written plenty of those. This is a blog about making decisions when you want to be intentional in the impacts of your decisions.

Driven by a desire to be truly intentional, I had developed a mindset that one particular product or one particular brand was best and that it was my job to identify it. I stressed about making an optimal decision.

 

Being Intentional

In the past, my efforts to make the best decision I could make--to choose the optimal product in relation to myself and the issues I care about--were often paralyzed due to indecision. Driven by a desire to be truly intentional, I had developed a mindset that one particular product or one particular brand was best and that it was my job to identify it. I stressed about making an optimal decision.

Over time, however, I came to realize that optimal did not need to mean that there was just one ‘best’ brand for me to identify but rather it could mean that there was a ‘best’ group of brands for me to choose from. This realization was liberating and in no way did it make me any less intentional in the impacts of my shopping.

This realization was not defeatism born of frustration. It was born from a reminder that the impacts I was trying to be intentional about were playing out in complex multi-system landscapes in real-time. With such dynamism, I needed to understand the impacts as confidence intervals rather than as an absolutes. 

Issues like climate change, fresh water management, and human rights throughout supply chains--all issues I want to limit my impacts upon--are not distinct, discrete, or static systems. Rather these are all extremely complex and evolving developments which are perpetually changing over time and even in relation to our own understanding of them.

Sometimes the more we know the more we don't know. Seeming solutions to some problems today also bring new impacts tomorrow--lithium ion batteries, for example, are a boon to electrification and renewable energy but are not consequence-free as lithium mining grows to unprecedented scale. Models forecasting emissions targets for the next 50 years may need to be up-dated in but 5 years as new variables emerge. Great initiatives to manage impacts in supply chains are quickly re-directed as supply chains react to geo-political events we never plan for. We want to be intentional in our impacts, but we certainly do not have as much control as we often like to think we do over the interrelated systems giving rise to the issues we care about.

What I realized is that in such a situation there can be no one 'best' brand, there are simply too many unknowns and too much dynamism for such an identification to accurately be made. This does not mean we need to give up our desire to be intentional in the impacts of our shopping. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to identify one ‘best’ brand for every occasion, but it is actually quite easy to identify a group of ‘better’ brands (and especially so with Motive RealScores).

Choosing between 'better' brands is much less frustrating: It's like choosing what flavor ice cream to get--no matter what choice you make you are still getting ice cream. There really is no wrong choice.

 

Being Better

‘Better’ brands are those which actively manage their impacts on the issues that matter. These are the brands that take responsibility for their products, operations, team-members and partners, and their own long-term development in relation to their impacts on people and the planet. I can’t say with any certainty if a company that is actively reducing their carbon emission by 70% against a 2015 baseline is actually better than a company that is reducing their carbon emissions by 65% against a comparable baseline while also providing no-cost licensing of their energy management software for companies in lesser-developed nations. But I can say with certainty that both of these companies are much better than the one which is not actively reducing their carbon emissions as they make splashy announcements to one-day--in some far-away time and place--be ‘carbon neutral’.

But what does ‘better’ mean to you?

Data can help us quickly identify a group of ‘better’ companies even when it can’t help us identify a ‘best’ company. There is simply too much subjectivity and uncertainty rolled-up in the concept of ‘best’ for data to provide any sort of objective determination. And choosing between 'better' brands is much less frustrating: It's like choosing what flavor ice cream to get--no matter what choice you make you are still getting ice cream. There really is no wrong choice.

 

Defining 'Better'

This realization has made it easier for me to be intentional in the impacts of my shopping. I use Motive RealScores to help me quickly identify the ‘better’ brands on the issues I care about and then I make my final decision based on other factors specific to the occasion (factors such as price, availability, styling, and so on…). For me, I consider a ‘better’ brand to be one that is among the top 10% of brands with respect to their impacts on the issues that matter. In my view, a brand can only crack into the top 10% of performers if they have truly and meaningfully internalized a holistic perspective of responsibility and accountability--and these are the types of brands I want to support.

But what does ‘better’ mean to you? Does it only include top-5% performers or maybe slightly more relaxed at top-20% performers? Does it include top performers across all issues or only certain issues such as human rights or employment standards? 

Once you define your view of ‘better’ you can turn to Motive RealScores to help you find brands that align with you. Being intentional in the impacts of our shopping should never have been so frustrating--and now with new data and perspectives it doesn’t need to be.

 


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