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.
Informed and intentional consumers can change the world...but we need to know what we want to change it to. Consumers are the most important stakeholders of companies--there simply is no sustained success without consumers. As consumer demand shifts, companies will race to where consumers want them to be, or they will lean on their marketing teams in hopes of changing consumers interests (but even the best marketing only goes so far and lasts so long...and this is a topic for another post).
We believe the world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens and consumer demand is the absolute most powerful force driving companies to be better corporate citizens. In this relationship, it helps to know what ‘better’ means to you.
Every purchase you make sends a signal to all companies about what to make AND how to make it--So what does your signal say?
We often hear from people wanting companies to be more sustainable or more ethical. For them, ‘better’ is measured in terms of sustainability and fairness. This is excellent, but these are not clear signals. Sustainability and fairness can mean so many different things to different people that these signals are simply not actionable.
The clearer your definition of ‘better’, the stronger your signal to companies becomes.
A company’s sustainability report provides a lens into how they frame the concept of sustainability. Of all the corporate sustainability reports we read--and we read all that we can get our hands on (it is our job after all!)--more than just a few stand out for how constrained or simplified their framework of sustainability is.
An increasing trend today is for companies’ sustainability reports to focus entirely and solely on climate change. In these cases, sustainability is being equated to action on GHG emissions. Now, action on climate change is needed, and urgently so, but I simply can’t get behind the idea that it is all that matters. Climate change is a risk in itself as well as a risk multiplier, and so is deserving of careful and substantial attention, yet it is not the only risk. For me, climate change is part of sustainability, but it is not sustainability.
We are bombarded everyday with marketing and other peoples’ opinions telling us what to care about.
I certainly stand behind meaningful action on climate change, but I also want to know about the company's impacts on natural ecosystems and habitats, local communities, human rights throughout the supply chain, employment relations, governance, and--most importantly for me--impacts on freshwater.
I want to know about all impacts on all issues which are material to, or materially impacted by, the company's operations and I want to understand all of these impacts in relation to how essential I believe the company's products to be. These are the considerations I take into account when making purchase decisions and so these are also the considerations that help shape my signal.
So, is a company that only reports on its climate actions sustainable?
For me, the answer is no--I need to know and see more. But what about you? What does sustainable or better mean to you? What are the issues you care about and what are the elements of these issues you want to see action on in the real world?
Companies need us--and now we need to be clear in what we need to see from them.
If you find it challenging to put details to your answers, I highly recommend you take a few moments to think about what you care about and why. We are bombarded everyday with marketing and other peoples’ opinions telling us what to care about. It can be so easy to lose focus on what actually matters to you.
The clearer your definition of ‘better’, the stronger your signal to companies becomes. This is so simple but it really is so powerful. The more you know about what you want, the more likely you are to be able to get it.
As intentional consumers--people who want to be intentional in the impacts of their shopping--we carry significant leverage over company behavior. We are now one of two most important consumer groups in the global economy. Intentional consumers now match price-conscious consumers on both scale and spending. Companies need us--and now we need to be clear in what we need to see from them.
So, what does better mean to you? As you think about this, connect with us to explore topics that you care about--we are here to help.
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