Category Archives: sustainability

From FMCG to SMCG – Slow Moving Creative Good

My Po-Zu shoes - slow, moving, creative, good

My Po-Zu shoes – slow, moving, creative, good

We live in a world dominated by FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands. It’s a fast-moving world. We are all consumers. And it’s all about the goods — the things we buy.

But there are signs of change. I believe that we are shifting to an SMCG world. One which is about Slow-Moving Creative Good. And seeing these signs of change as inter-related will help to consolidate and accelerate the shift.

Let’s take each of these elements in turn.

Slow — There is Slow Food,where we think about where the food comes from, and enjoy the process of how it is made, not just the consumption. There is Slow Fashion or Slow Style, the counter to Fast Fashion, clothes that are made to be worn again and again, and made in conditions that we do not need to be ashamed of, from raw materials that are recycled or produced in less environmentally-harmful ways. There is a general Slowing-Down, with more people turning to activities like meditation, yoga, walking and cycling as an antidote to the fastness of life around them.

MovingOriginally, I thought of this as part of Slow-Moving, and it works like that. But, whilst stirring some soup,it came to me that moving deserves to stand alone as well. It is about that which moves us, that which connects with us on an emotional level. It is the being in the present that enables us to be moved. I think that this was front of mind because of this morning reading Laurie Anderson’s obituary to her husband, Lou Reed. In it she writes of how he spent his last week “being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature”. It is about the movement that comes from inside when we are still, when we stop moving.

Towards an alternative modelCreative — We are not just consumers anymore. We create online all the time. Young people are using their creativity building apps. MakerFaires are pulling in the punters. We’re collaborating in our consumption. More people are growing their own vegetables and getting creative in the kitchen. We are the people formerly known as the audience. We are no longer an audience of consumers. We are creators, I firmly believe this innate in all us and needs to be expressed if we are to be fulfilled. And we want to be part of the brands that serve us. 

Good — It is not about the goods, the things that we buy. It is about the good that is generated and shared from what we do — whether it is the things we buy, the things we make, the love that we spread. It is a shift from physical goods to the network of good. My Po-Zu shoes shown in the picture above are an example of good, with every aspect of creation carefully thought through,from the coconut husk foot mattress to vegetable tanned leather, they are slow-made with love, and they encourage me to slow down and walk (Po-Zu means ‘pause’ in Japanese. Towards a new model, where we are not separate consumers.

I make some generalisations, and there is a long way to go until we are living a SMCG life. I know myself the journey that I need to go on. But the point is that the seeds are there, and growing. We have the research to show that more money does not make us happy once our basic needs are met. But qualities of slow, moving, creativity and good do.

What does this mean for you? What topics would you like me to see explore further within this, or who would like me to speak to? Do you think that there is more of a need to focus on what this means for brands, or for people, or both?

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The power of making in helping us to think differently

Nike have a new initiative – ‘Nike Makers’.  Nike never beat about the bush.  Or think small. “We’re here to unveil a new age of design. One that is about making better things and making things better.”

The starting point is materials. They are releasing the API for the Nike Sustainable Materials Index so that makers of code can create apps which will let makers of things design using more sustainable materials.

The video to introduce the initiative is classic Nike too. I quote some excerpts here, but it is 1 minute 32 seconds that goes by very quickly, so take a look.

“Make no mistake.

We hate sustainability.

We hate that people don’t even want to hear the word anymore.

We hate that it has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes.

We’re over it.

We’re here to unveil a new age of design.

It’s about making better things and making things better.

….

One that gives the power back to makers of things, not makers of decisions.”

And so it continues. The words resonate with me in so ways. I love the line: “We hate that it (sustainability) has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes”. It sums up how sustainability is managed in many companies, and how it is received by the people that it is passed down to, rather than it being something that is driven by the people who ‘make things’, those people who get their hands dirty everyday.

The emphasis on the makers of things led me to think back to an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year – “The Power of Making”. The exhibition was a powerful celebration of the skill of craftspeople. The essays in the catalogue confirm the wisdom of Nike’s approach – and reinforces the idea that power is truly in the hands of makers. I say hands deliberately, as one of the re-occurring themes in the essays is about how by making things, you open yourself up to think differently. As Martina Margetts says, “Making is…a process whereby mind, body and imagination are integrated in the practice of thought through action”.

Dan Lepard, a baker, said the same thing at a talk that I went to: that using your hands open up different parts of the brain. This is so true. And this is why, when I run workshops, I find that even if participants have a simple activity to do, such as cutting and sticking pictures from a magazine to make a collage, it opens up minds to think in a different way than that if they had just been asked to write words on a flipchart.

We all need to find ways of bringing more making, and less thinking, into our work lives – and, paradoxically, we’ll find that it opens up the new ways of thinking that we are searching for – in order to make things better.

What is a sustainable brand?

My first post on this site looked at the definition of sustainability. The definition that I put forward was:

“Sustainability is a balance between the financial, human, and environmental. It is about living your values and acting with integrity, responsibility and generosity. It is about being in a community of discussion, dialogue and action – because no person or company is an island and everything is interconnected.”

Yet this blog is about sustainable brands, and so I have been thinking about what the definition of a sustainable brand might be. The answer that I have arrived at is as follows, and builds on my definition of sustainability:

A sustainable brand is one that has a meaning or purpose that goes beyond making money, instead seeking to increase the wellbeing of humanity and all life on our planet. It sees people as creativists, not consumers. And it understands the lifecycle and environmental impact of all its activities, so that it can seek to continuously innovate and reduce its impact to a minimum.

In summary, the three main elements are: purpose, people as creativists, and taking action on lifecycle impacts. Or to reduce even further: creating + connecting + acting. I will take a brief look at each of these three elements in turn:

1) Purpose

Santiago Gowland, VP of Brand Development and Global Corporate Responsibility at Unilever wrote “A lack of alignment around purpose slowly erodes attempts to be proactive toward any solution.” And we need companies that are creating solutions. There is increasing acknowledgement that just making money, to the exclusion of all other aims, is no longer good enough. Here is Umair Haque on the subject in an extract from his Harvard Review blog:

“The untapped capacity to create significance (and all the stuff that follows on from it — higher purpose, a sense of meaning, animating passion, intrinsic motivation) has never been more important: I’d gently suggest it’s the wellspring of 21st century advantage. As I’ve discussed at length both here and in my book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, the real roots of this crisis are that 20th century institutions, whether banks, governments, or corporations, are becoming more and more useless to people, communities, and society. They’re extracting wealth from them, instead of creating enduring, authentic value for them.”

A sustainable brand will be focusing on how to create enduring, authentic value – for the long-term and for all people.

2) People as creativists, not consumers
A sustainable brand is one that is forming a new type of relationship with its stakeholders: its employees, its customers, the communities in which it operates. The old model was one based of passivity: employees did what they were told within the framework of the company hierarchy; customers bought what the advertising suggested that they buy; communities got a hand-out if they were lucky.

In the past year and a half, I have been developing my thinking around my Creativist Manifesto. The manifesto states that the biggest choice that we have to make in society today is to be a creativist or a consumer. A consumer is passive and motivated by extrinsic values, and this is damaging to individuals, to society and to the planet. A creativist, in contrast, is active in creating their own identity and motivated by intrinsic values.

Companies, in different ways, are beginning to recognise the shift from consumers to creativists. For example, Skanska, the construction Group, in an article about the future of energy, talks about ‘prosumers’. It gives the example of a housing development in Heritage Springs, California, which claims to be the largest solar-powered community in the US. When the system produces more electricity than the homes are producing, households are given a credit back to their electricity bill. In this way each household becomes an ‘energy farmer’.

“This development revitalizes the term “prosumer,” coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler, who in the 1980s defined the prosumer as someone who blurs the distinction between a consumer and a producer. Energy Farmers are prosumers of the 21st century – urban citizens that are stakeholders in a local energy community. Systems like that of Heritage Springs build an intrinsic understanding of electricity by directly involving, engaging and empowering citizens in the abstract concept that is electricity use.”

The meaning of ‘prosumer’ is itself now not distinct, sometimes meaning ‘professional consumer’, and in my view ‘creativist’ is a more accurate term to use here – households which are not just consuming electricity, but actively creating it. Whichever term you choose to use, the principal is the same, and the concept will become more widespread across different sectors. It is the companies who both recognise and encourage the shift from consumers to creativists who will be leaders on the road to sustainability.

And in order to respond to, and be ahead of, the constantly changing world that we live in, companies need their employees to be creativists, not consumers – not passively along for the ride and their monthly paycheck, but creativists, bringing their creativity, their passions, their ideas to work.

3) Taking action on lifecycle
Companies such as InterfaceFLOR and Unilever are recognising that lifecycle analysis is essential to understanding the impacts of a company’s products, and therefore being able to identify where innovation is required in order to reduce impacts. It is this rigour and understanding which will provide companies with a solid base to innovate from, and allow them to take a real leadership position. For the best intentions and the best connections amount to nothing without taking action.

What is your view? What makes a sustainable brand? Please share your thoughts and examples.

What does sustainability do?

There is the noun ‘sustainability’. There is the adjective ‘sustainable’. But what does sustainability actually do? What is the verb, the action word? Sustain doesn’t quite cut it. So much that is written about sustainability is, as a friend of mine would say, ‘blah blah’, and one of the main reasons is that it is packed with abstract nouns, and short on doing words.

Read the rest of this article at http://www.sustainabilityforum.com/blog/what-does-sustainability-do

Reskilling for sustainability

I am now writing a weekly blog on the relaunched SustainabilityForum.

My first post is on the reskilling that is required for sustainability – and identifies listening as a key skill that we need to develop.

Read the full blog post here: http://www.sustainabilityforum.com/blog/reskilling-sustainability

I will, of course, continue blogging on a weekly basis on this site too.

‘Now the ears of my ears awake…’


I talked in a earlier post about the need for a new language of sustainability. Apart from a few forward looking businesses, poetry doesn’t usually have a place in the business world. However, poetry is one way for us to awake or re-awake to the beauty of language and the world around us.

It strikes me that in most business writing about sustainability and ‘green’ issues, there is a distinct lack of connection with the natural, for example invoking the senses. This lack of connection encourages us to continue to view the earth as something separate from us, rather than the source of life which we need to cherish. If we do want to engage people (whether in their capacity as employees, members of the general public, suppliers etc) then I would suggest that we need to encourage people to start to re-connect with the world around them.

To give you an example, I picked Starbucks at random to see what language they were using (I must be in need of a coffee). It turns out that their mission is ‘To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.’ This is a fine mission statement. And the use of the word ‘spirit’ suggests that they would be open to appealing to the human spirit. They have some nice features on their ‘Shared planet’ webpages – for example being able to take a look around a green store. It all sounds worthy, such as recycling coffee grounds and using reclaimed materials.

But it is hardly living up to their mission statement of ‘inspiring’. Why not take the language one stage further? When talking about coffee grounds, there is an ideal opportunity to appeal to the sense of smell – the coffee grounds which produced the heady scent of freshly brewed coffee, can now be used to help your garden grow – imagine the scent of the flowers filling your garden. Or when talking about using reclaimed wood, why not then talk about the forests around Seattle, the experience of walking in the forest? ‘This is what inspires us, which makes us want to preserve the forests. What inspires you?’ Of course, the hard facts need to be included as well, but there is a place for the spirit.

I will leave you with ee cumming’s poem ‘I thank You God for most this amazing’. If every Chief Executive were to recite this on their way into work, what difference would this make to the way business was conducted?

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

 

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

All the world’s a stage

I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity’. (Douglas R Hofstadter)

Reading these words, quoted by John Simmons in his inspiring book ‘Dark Angels – How writing releases creativity at work’, I was reminded of Ben Todd. Ben is the Executive Director of the Arcola Theatre in London, and he spoke recently at UK Aware in his capacity as one of the London Leaders. He explained how the Arcola Theatre has sustainability as one of the three key strands of its work, along with art and community.

Constraints fuelling creativity

Now, when they are planning a new show, the theatre will ask ‘Could you power your show using this fuel cell?’ And the theatre group will see as this as a new challenge to their creativity – demonstrating the point that what is a seeming constraint can fuel creativity. It is this attitude that business needs to bring to sustainability as well.

The rational and the visionary

Ben also made the interesting point that they need to combine the rational with the visionary in their work to incorporate sustainability into the theatre. Waste and heating fall into the category of the ‘rational’ – areas in which the theatre needs to take action as they have the biggest impact in terms of sustainability. Lighting and set design are in the category of the ‘visionary’. In footprint terms they don’t have so much impact, but because of their high visibility for the audience, making changes here will have the biggest influence in raising awareness amongst the public, demonstrating the Arcola’s ethos and inspiring people to think what they can do. A useful distinction for companies to bear in mind.