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.
As someone who wants to be intentional in the impacts of their shopping, it can be so easy to look at the daily news and the ever-more apocalyptical stories of climate change, drought, or human rights abuses and simply feel so inconsequential in it all. It can be so easy to feel like taking the time to find brands that align with our values and making considerate choices simply won’t change anything--or at least won’t change anything fast enough.
And in all of this, it is so easy to turn our attention toward companies and governments and claim that they need to address these issues or that they must take responsibility and demonstrate leadership in finding solutions. It is so easy, when feeling inconsequential, to believe that we are powerless--powerless in causing the problems and powerless in solving them--and to turn our anger and expectations toward those who seem so powerful.
We Are Not Powerless
Although these feelings of powerlessness and overwhelm are shared by many, there are still two very important reasons we should not feel powerless or inconsequential.
Next time you are feeling inconsequential, take a break from the daily news and global media narratives. Take a look into your own communities and networks and see for yourself how change is happening.
The first is that the daily news loves drama. Stories of incremental and marginal improvements just don’t stand a chance against a global agency report forecasting the doom of civilization. Yes, environmental risks and social inequalities are serious problems requiring urgent and meaningful action, but it is also important to note that urgent and meaningful action is underway...and it is underway because people like you care enough to be intentional in your choices. The action we are seeing is all from the grassroots but what is happening at this scale is too diffuse to make for a simple story line in the global media.
Next time you are feeling inconsequential, take a break from the daily news and global media narratives. Take a look into your own communities and networks and see for yourself how change is happening. Your intentional choices and actions are not inconsequential, you are part of this change. We are all making a difference even if this difference is not clean and clear-cut enough to make it into the daily news cycle.
We forget that we are the companies and the governments. It is all just us, we are everything.
The second reason we should not feel powerless is simply the absolute fact that we are not powerless. We keep turning our attention to companies and governments when feeling overwhelmed by the pace of environmental calamities and social inequalities as if they have the power to do something about it, and we forget that we are the companies and the governments. It is all just us, we are everything.
Companies and governments are not entities or actors in their own right. Rather, they are legal constructs that serve as vessels for our shared ambitions and collective choices. A company is only powerful because we give it power. A government is only powerful because we give it legitimacy. All agency is drawn from us. They are us, we are them.
With every choice we make, every dollar we spend, and every vote we cast, we are sending a clear signal of how we want the world to be. Sometimes our signals are acted on immediately and sometimes they are drowned out by those of other individuals, but in all cases our signals are shaping the narrative of development. As examples:
- Electric cars are now commonplace and soon to eclipse new internal combustion models because we choose electric cars. There may be regulatory mandates, rebates, and other incentives, but these would all amount to nothing if we as consumers did not choose to buy electric cars.
- Electric heat pumps are replacing fuel furnaces not simply because they are more efficient but because they are more efficient and we are buying them.
- Clean cosmetics, clean-eating, and organic ingredients are all recent market developments which are surpassing growth rates of ‘traditional’ market counterparts. In fact, sustainability-marketed products now account for 52% of growth in the consumer packaged goods market. All of this growth does not stem from the moral compass of a handful of corporate executives but rather directly from demands expressed by consumers. We collectively sent a signal that we want more sustainable products and brands are now racing to where they need to be to meet this demand.
Do not let the scale of the challenges we face undermine your confidence in your own power.
Companies and governments are well positioned to appear as leaders of change but they are certainly not agents of change. Individuals, you and me, provide agency with every choice we make. Companies and governments do not lead, rather they follow direction...and we set the direction. If we want more of certain behaviors and less of others, and if we want situations to change faster than they seem to be changing now, we need to find ways to leverage or amplify our signals.
Being intentional in the impacts of our choices may very well feel inconsequential some days, but being intentional in the impacts of our choices is the only act of consequence that actually matters. Change is happening. Do not let the scale of the challenges we face undermine your confidence in your own power.