The countdown to Christmas is on in earnest in many houses with children excitedly opening daily Advent calendars to help the days disappear until the big day arrives. So, imagine their excitement when a major retailer launches a specific Christmas campaign with 12 cute characters just in time to encourage the adults in their house to spend at least $360 on groceries to achieve the full set of characters. This campaign provides an interesting insight into the sustainability messages being used by the retailer as part of their overall sustainability platform.
The key aspects of this Christmas campaign include the following:
- Australian made (implying supporting of local jobs)
- Recyclable paper (although the source of this is not stated)
- No direct plastic is used for the characters (although it is used for the packaging for the additional Christmas tree to hold all of the characters)
The major retailer on their website outlines their commitment to sustainability to include the following:
- Reducing food waste
- Reducing waste
- Sustainable sourcing
- Energy efficiency
- Animal welfare
I would suggest that the campaign has not been as successful as anticipated because of the following observations:
- the Christmas tree that was available at an additional cost is this week available for free (i.e. supplies are left over and shoppers won’t be interested in two weeks’ time in Christmas items);
- commentary on some of the social media channels whilst acknowledging that plastic was minimised queried really did they need to make more rubbish that will just end up in landfill. It was interesting though to see that an alternative retailer offered a different Christmas campaign that utilised plastic decorations as the shopper’s rewards and many commentators were noting that this made them more durable than the cardboard offerings (however no mention of the environmental impact at all). Interestingly, talking to my Miss 9-year-old about the campaigns I asked for her perspective and she sided with the cardboard option as it was better for the environment than more plastic that won’t get used again. A focus group involving children is surely a missed opportunity by marketing personnel to gain their perspectives prior to designing campaigns;
- the reference to recyclable paper doesn’t provide information on where the paper was sourced from which is perhaps a missed opportunity to connect with their broader sustainability message of sustainable sourcing.
I would suggest that the Christmas campaign appears to have tried to connect to the overall sustainability communication campaign for the retailer however the planning to show direct correlation is at best weak and almost an afterthought. This lack of direct connection runs the risk of reinforcing many customer perceptions that sustainability is more of a green washing aspect rather than driving actual long-term changes.
The Band ‘The Police’ released the song “Message In A Bottle” back in 1979 which was a long time before the words like climate change and sustainability were part of the regular language of our societies. The lyrics included the following:
“……I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle……..
……Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore….”
Whilst The Police were communicating via song about the inability to find love and realising they were not alone the lyrics can just as easily be applied to the communication messages we see about many aspects of sustainability and how in many of these we are faced with mixed messages.
Some real-world examples where the communication message appears to have got mixed up include the incessant need for major retailers to wrap fresh fruit and vegetables in plastic wrap (apparently to ensure freshness during the supply chain process) yet the sale of plastic bags for customers to carry their goods home with so they can consider their environmental impact of their purchasing decisions. This lack of action in addressing a major contributor of plastic is rightfully meet with scepticism of their actual sustainability commitment by charging for bags that whilst some of the funds will go to community projects some of it will also go to the Balance Sheet therefore bolstering the bottom line.
Another example of confusion recently implemented by the retailers was to levy consumers with a 10 cents / litre for fresh milk to help the dairy farmers during this period of prolonged drought. No issues with this at all – except its only levied on the largest bottles (the 3 litre) so if the consumer wants to avoid paying the levy they just select either 3 x 1 litre or 2 x 1 litre and 1 x 1 litre and they’ve got the same amount of milk without paying the levy and they’ve increased the amount of plastic they will be putting back into the rubbish / recycling journey once they’ve finished with the bottles. So, remind me again how this fits with the overall sustainability journey that is being communicated to consumers? It doesn’t fit and only serves to drive scepticism and ‘green washing’ amongst consumers rather than tackling the issues at hand and the need for significant changes in everyday consumer behaviours.
“A picture is worth ten thousand words” was first quoted by Barnard in 1927 and the applicability of this today cannot be underestimated when trying to communicate the sustainability message. A pile of single use water bottles, endless metres of plastic wrap, double bagging of food items just to name of few when they are piled up certainly can become a powerful message in their own right. One of our local schools is making a mural later this year only out of round plastic lids to highlight the amount of plastic that is being consumed in our everyday decisions. Whilst the children are excited about the colour and sizes they are collecting in anticipation of this it will allow for a serious communication message to be held with them about the sustainable choices going forward. As a parent I can attest that when shopping and my Miss 9 identifies that something is double plastic wrapped the encouragement to leave it on the shelf is definitely higher with a little voice explaining “so much unnecessary plastic”.
The Police were indeed visionary – we just need to listen to the story, understand the message and act on it.
Climate change, we’ve heard it across many different media channels for quite some time now and yet the challenge remains – how do we get people to change their behaviours both on a large and small scale? Consensus amongst many has identified that no one single approach will work but surely, we can make it easier to assist everyone in implementing the changes where they possibly can.
Miss 9 has had the fortunate opportunity to travel recently and when finishing an item of food invariably she has been faced with decisions as to which bin her rubbish should go into. Whilst its understandable that there may be differences between countries which provides an opportunity to discuss about the many differences between countries and this includes their approach to rubbish / recycling management. It however gets a little more difficult when being at home and visiting the train station, shopping centre, parks and even her own house and there is no consistency between any of these locations in how to manage your rubbish / recycling. The discussion of why some locations are doing a multi bin separation compared to a single bin does seem a little confusing. Miss 9 even noticed at an externally hosted birthday party the venue just scooped all the rubbish up at the end of the event into a single bin and she wondered how the earth was going to celebrate with all the plastic? If we want behaviours to change then reducing confusion must be a serious area of focus.
Addressing this issue would be a great start but then also the overall amount of rubbish / recycling that is generated by our daily activities must also come into the decision-making process as well. Miss 9’s school last year implemented a ‘waste free Wednesday’ lunch box at the request of the students. Except for compostable waste which could be placed into bins all other rubbish needed to be returned back to their house at the end of the day. The information came in over the term there was less waste collected at the school. Our house generally has a waste free lunch box approach however there are occasions when a packaged item is requested but never on a Wednesday. This term however the decision process was amended by the adults and was made harder for the students with a random day every week to be selected with no advance notice given. This perhaps is a jump to far as I noticed Miss 9 discussing the challenges to go from one day a week to five and the impact this would have on her overall food selection. Changes in behaviours can take time and perhaps if a two-day waste free week for this term and increasing in a similar pattern had been adopted the decision process would have been easier to manage and adhered to by the students. I’ve also noticed there isn’t as great a discussion around the school yard – so did it become all too hard?
We are going to need our children to help address the issues of climate change – but as adults we need to work on our ways to reduce confusion. Do we really need so many different waste management strategies within local areas rather than identifying the best and proceeding with this? I suspect the ‘I know better approach’ is a significant factor in this issue. We also need to recognise that decision making sometimes needs multiple small steps rather than a hop, step and jump approach.
Want to read some more on this topic?
Davey, C., Lea, J., Shaw, C. and Burke, T., 2010. Children’s participation in decision-making. Children’s Rights Alliance England and National Children’s Bureau, London.
A fresh sunny winter’s day last weekend provided me with all the reassurance I needed that small changes can make a difference in people’s habits and expectations and overall the sustainability journey for the planet.
A family we have been friends with for over 5 years are due to travel later this year and their children aged 10 and 12 have decided they would like to participate in some physical activities whilst away which come with expensive price tags. So, what to do? Miss 10 sets about holding a homemade cupcake and lemonade stall and Master 12 sets up a collection and recycling service for the local neighbours to address this challenge.
Let’s have a look at both of these activities to see how they are operating. Firstly, it’s a micro solution which for most individuals is how they can make decisions to alter their impacts on the environment.
The homemade cupcake and lemonade stall showed many sustainability decisions in play:
• the use of social media for requests of home grown lemons and the corresponding sharing of transport resources to collect / drop off these (and in many cases accompanying swapping of children’s clothes / toys that were no longer needed so the circular economy in action);
• the adjustment of the recipes to reduce the amount of required sugar (which Miss 10 was correct in that we couldn’t tell the difference);
• the packaging supplier who when informed of the activity donated biodegradable plates, cups and straws for use at the stall so no single use plastic anywhere;
• the neighbours who walked up and bought their own cups with them to have a glass of lemonade without needing to use any extra packaging;
• the number of children who rode bikes / walked up to the location as their parents insisted that they get some exercise before partaking in treats; and
• the use of social media to advertise it rather than printing of flyers.
The collection and recycling service has also shown some great sustainability decisions being incorporated for the benefit of all:
• Master 12 is visiting the neighbours around his area twice a week to collect recyclable products. This is providing additional fitness opportunities for him; and
• He has designed a centralised transportation service on a periodic basis rather than lots of individuals doing their own trips to the recycling venue.
The other aspect to these ventures that I really like is that both were wanting to raise money to participate in experiences rather than purchasing items, which in many cases would be no longer interesting shortly afterwards compared to an experience which will provide lifetime memories.
So, I know these are micro examples but the more that we talk about these examples with family and friends the more it will be seen as the new ‘normal’ and providing long term solutions for all.
With all due credit to “The Greatest Showman” movie the lyric of “let’s rewrite the stars” could be applicable to identifying the leaders we need to transition to the low (or zero) carbon future. Currently many large organisations are holding up their success stories trying to show their relevant stakeholders that they are doing great things in this area. I’d like to challenge that we rewrite the stars…..so what do I mean by this?
Let’s acknowledge the efforts that many organisations are doing – this is a step in the right direction however do they ever stop and have a look at what other parts of their organisations are doing and hence off setting their good efforts?
A recent example I saw was a large listed organisation operating across multiple countries who has been leading in some of the low carbon solutions that they have implemented. However, their marketing team has just undertaken an amazing awards night at a very substantial location which required over 200 attendees to fly in from all over not just one country but indeed many countries for a single night of celebrating sales champions. No expense was spared in the celebration of this evening and those who were champions in their particular category are now having an all expenses paid trip for 3 days to another international location to further celebrate later in the year. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for recognising and celebrating success – the challenge is that if the carbon footprints were calculated and recorded for these celebration events would it be off setting all their other fine efforts? In which case are they really stars?
An alternative I saw recently was a group of 9-year-old students who whilst with adults at a function outlined why the adults shouldn’t be eating meat due to its negative environmental impacts and cruelty aspects. This had an immediate impact on the level of meat consumption at the function – a localised example that won’t ever make it to an AGM or an annual report but for a moment in time it challenged a way of thinking and perhaps going forward a change in behaviour, which is what is needed if we want to reduce our carbon footprint.
Perhaps we should look to our children to help share the low carbon message and maybe they should play a more important part of selling the message to our current stars?
Our children will be the ones inheriting our decisions from today so perhaps the lyrics from the song “A Million Dreams” of “However big, however small, Let me be part of it all” could be shared with CEO’s to drive their organisations overall behaviour choices.
We are going to need many levers of change for this transition to be successful.
Miss 8 has just celebrated turning 9 and besides the happiness that comes with reaching this milestone it has shown us all the example of the pebble becoming a ripple.
When Miss 7 was turning 8 the questions we were asked included enquiring about her level of health had our circle of friends wondering if she had been previously ill. Fast forward a year and the birthday invitations were despatched with a children’s cardiac charity selected this year in lieu of gifts and not a single question was asked about Miss 9’s health status – rather a really enthusiastic reaction to which charity have you selected and why.
A fantastic change indeed to see.
Along with this there were still a few lovely gifts received on the day (but less than last year) and Miss 9 took them home and thoroughly enjoyed opening and playing with them all – none going into the ‘I don’t want to play with this box’.
It was interesting to note whilst we were having the celebratory Birthday lunch together on a beautiful day a school friend Mum came up and said this is exactly the idea I was looking for my upcoming daughter’s birthday – I just hadn’t thought about it like this yet. This is the outcome we were hoping for – starting a conversation and getting others to think about a different perspective rather than just following the traditional (and almost expected model).
It’s now turned into the norm of how we celebrate in our immediate family and Miss 9 is counting the weeks until the planning for her 10th can commence and she is already considering who she can support next year.
Just in case you’re wondering, her 9th Birthday efforts saw over $2,000 raised for her selected charity and that’s certainly money well spent by everyone 😊
Depending on your global location, faith or level of interest in the event scheduled to occur in 34 days (yes, I have children in my life) its building up to be one of their favourite times of the year.
Whilst recognising the religious significance of this birthday and acknowledging the non-faith based perspective it is with excitement that we are organising schedules to have our annual family photo taken whilst sharing the desired wish list with the all-important gentleman dressed in a red suit.
So, imagine my disappointment this year when reviewing online the photo package options to find that there is no digital only option unlike in previous years. Every family is now obligated to take at least one physical photo home with them. Okay, so I know it’s only one photo and as others have quoted to me “don’t sweat the small stuff” but I feel like this step back to ‘having’ to take a physical item away with us rather than just an email link is a bit like reverting back to free plastic bags rather than the conscious prodding of do you actually want to pay for plastic and deciding that you really can carry your goods in your arms. We never printed out our Christmas family photo, preferring instead to share them online with family and friends and for many they reciprocated along similar lines.
So, the question I have is how do we drive the event planners to continue to follow sustainability practices once they are implemented? The digital Christmas photo option was never the cheapest option, but it allowed consumers to make a choice and we enjoyed that choice. We have had our yearly family photo taken at the same location however, even looking at alternative locations the photography services are provided by a central business so trying somewhere else won’t address the issue. In the short term I can write them a note using social media and try and gather support for a change in their approach next year. I just need to try and justify the decision for this year’s session.
Maybe we could write it on our wish list and leave it with the elves………
Interested in another perspective?
Antonides, G. (2017). Sustainable Consumer Behaviour: A Collection of Empirical Studies. Sustainability, 9, 1686. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/9/10/1686
Kopnina, H. (2017). Teaching Sustainable Development Goals in The Netherlands: a critical approach, Environmental Education Research, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2017.1303819
Lanzini, P. (2018). Responsible Citizens and Sustainable Consumer Behavior – New Interpretive Frameworks. Routledge.