homeviews NewsThe pandemic’s payoff: Seizing the green opportunity

The pandemic’s payoff: Seizing the green opportunity

The pandemic’s payoff: Seizing the green opportunity
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By Nimish Rustagi  Jun 30, 2021 8:07:06 PM IST (Updated)

Are we set on a path of greening our economies, businesses and consumption? The pandemic has certainly chiselled a sentiment for pro-environment disruptions.

Just days ago, India’s biggest company announced a Rs 75,000 crore (over $10 billion) investment in green energy over a three-year period. Elsewhere, responding to a survey by US Cotton Trust Protocol and Sourcing Journal, over 40 percent of the participating global sustainability executives from the apparel industry revealed that the pandemic had positively influenced their future commitments to sustainability. Other studies reveal that the pandemic has fuelled demand for organic food in many markets. Governments, in several countries, have announced recovery plans with a strong focus on green projects in clean energy, public transportation and clean tech.

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‘Going Green’ is the common theme in these recent news and findings. Are we set on a path of greening our economies, businesses and consumption? The pandemic has certainly chiselled a sentiment for pro-environment disruptions. Two factors have helped.
First, the pandemic has enhanced our awareness about the magic of nature. During lockdowns, we noticed with awe, the clear blue skies, mountain ranges visible from long distances, flamingos flocking on a big city beach, wild animals reclaiming urban spaces and more. Return of nature, was a theme of conversations in homes, on news channels and social media.
Second, the pandemic motivated a shift towards a more collectivist worldview. 24x7 news and visuals of deaths heightened peoples’ realisation about their own mortality and enhanced their anxieties. This, along with economic hardships, shortages and uncertainty made people seek refuge in relationships, in sharing and in helping and caring for others. Research too supports this change. In a big data study, published in Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies journal, psychologists Noah FG Evers, Patricia M Greenfield and Gabriel W Evers analysed content from google searches and social media posts on Twitter, internet forums and blogs in the USA. They noted a strong shift towards collectivist values in the USA after the pandemic was declared a national emergency in March 2020. Such a shift in values, they suggest, is consistent with predictions based on Patricia M Greenfield’s Theory of Social Change, Cultural Evolution, and Human Development.
However, the shift towards collectivist values may not be limited to just one country or society. Think for yourself—did you experience an enhanced urge to help others? Did you feel more connected to your families, friends and neighbours? Importantly, the above value shift also has pro-environment implications. The collectivist rather than individualist values (and societies) are more consistent with pro-environment attitudes and behaviours.
These pandemic-induced factors seem to have enhanced the awareness and support for pro-environment institutional actions, consumer behaviour and way of life. In a recent survey by Ipsos, more than 70 percent respondents from across the world considered climate change over time as serious a crisis as COVID-19. The numbers for China (87 percent) and India (81 percent) are even higher. The majority of respondents favoured a green economic recovery. Another study by Kantar suggests an increase of over 20 percent (2020 vs. 2019) in the percentage of ‘Eco Actives’, a term it uses for consumers who are high on environmentally conscious consumption.
Due to the pandemic, the consumers today have stronger than usual pro-environment attitudes, backed and prodded by a collectivist worldview. These would suggest a rising demand—a big of part of it, still latent—for green products and services. It is a moment that must be seized by businesses to adopt the triple bottom line—people, planet, and profits—mandate.
Businesses need to make sustainable innovation a part of their very DNA. They must align their structure, processes, and outputs to minimise their carbon footprint; strive to become carbon neutral. It is an opportune time to adopt green technologies, alter supply chains, re-educate workforce and modify product life cycles. This should help create a strong portfolio of eco-friendly products and services to satisfy environmentally-conscious consumers.
For businesses’ green shift to succeed, marketing managers role would be key. For in the final analysis corporates’ green investments would be guided by the stability and size of the pro-environment market and consumer demand. Marketing can help solidify consumers’ preference for green options despite the availability of competing cheaper, less green alternatives. Through well-designed marketing and communication, the environment-friendly brands, products and services can be firmly positioned as the ‘best’ options. Creative marketing and communication can help strengthen the narrative favouring eco-friendly consumption and nudge consumers towards greener choices. Marketing’s touchstone would be whether green alternatives become consumers’ first choice and way of life.
The pro-environment paradigm presented by a deadly virus is a great opportunity, but it may not last for long. For Greenfield’s Theory also predicts that post-pandemic, when mortality (and its salience) is lowered and economic prosperity returns, societal values will shift back to what they were. While we hope for pro-green values and behaviours to persist, a safer bet lies in governments and corporates exploiting the present-day soft corner for the environment, to invest in a sustainable future. With the right efforts, green consumption may come into vogue. In contrast, greenwashing or pseudo environment-friendly actions by corporates could greatly harm the cause. The change must be real and sincere. It will not be easy, nor will the results be immediate. But the journey must begin and begin now.
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