Consumer Activism Nowadays
In a progressively connected world with access to more information and data than ever before, consumer demands are becoming ever greater and more ambitious. Consumers’ choices are based on their tastes and values and, therefore, it is expected that they would want to buy and use companies’ products that are aligned with said values. With companies operating on an increasingly public stage, we have witnessed the advent of mainstream media and social platforms that accelerate consumer movements, which in turn has culminated in the concept of Consumer Activism – consisting, in simple terms, on taking an action in favor of a company (BUYcott) or against it (BOYcott).
The wake of a more demanding and aware consumer, with a larger desire to see their consumption habits produce as little environmental impact in the world as possible (or at least in some way improve upon it), has led companies on an ongoing journey towards sustainability and corporate social responsibility. This change in the outlook of firms has as main goals not only the satisfaction of customer needs and demands but also an improvement on customer loyalty, that is translated through repeated purchases, word of mouth, increased revenues, and a more positive reputation.
This change of path is being clearly reflected in the actions that many large corporations have taken recently, in the form of pledges and initiatives towards a more sustainable world. For example, Google is aiming to become carbon free by 2030, being already carbon neutral since 2007. The firm announced in October 2022 that it has restored over 15 acres of native habitats with oak and willows in Silicon Valley. Amazon has also pledged to become net-zero carbon by 2040. In 2019, it created the Right Now Climate Fund, a $100 million fund to restore and preserve forests, wetlands and grasslands globally, currently supporting programs in Italy, Germany, Brazil and the United States. In 2021, 85% renewable energy was used in its operations, with the plan being to exclusively rely on this type of energy by 2025.
However, this road towards sustainability has not always been smooth, with clients becoming increasingly more skeptical of the claims enterprises make in this department to justify some of their controversial actions. An example of this was seen when in 2020, with the announcement of the iPhone 12, Apple made the decision to no longer provide its customers with a wall charger or earphones included in the box when purchasing an iPhone, claiming that it was it could “fit up to 70% more products on a shipping pallet, removing carbon emissions in their global logistics chain” due to a “smaller and lighter iPhone box” leading to lower shipping emissions and the reduction of e-waste. Nevertheless, the removal of these items created knock-on effects as clients needed to buy a separate charger as older chargers are less efficient and are susceptible to breaking. Consequently, this requires more packaging to be utilized and even more fossil fuels to be burnt due to its shipping. This decision led Apple to be able to reduce costs and diversify its revenue streams by increasing the likelihood of selling either its chargers or earphones to its clients and, ultimately, improving its financials, with environmental concerns ultimately pushed to the background and essentially used as an excuse.
Nowadays, it is possible to characterize a company in as many ways as the consumer sees fit: “sustainable”, “environmentally friendly”, “polluting”, among many others. A point has been reached in which, with the aim of standardizing the classifications given to companies and ensuring clients of the truthfulness of the claims said enterprises make, the creation of non-profit organizations becomes essential.
With this motto in mind, the B-Corp Movement was built to change the economic system and to “Make Business a Force For Good”. This movement has its starting point on the slogan “There’s no Planet B”, in a way to create an international network of organizations that all together will lead economic systems towards change in order to support an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy. Moreover, the B-Corp movement is responsible for analyzing and certifying companies according to rigorous standards to ensure that B-Corps and Non-B-Corps jointly plan a more resilient future.
Therefore, certified B-Corporations are companies verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
The number of B-corporations has grown immensely over the past few years around the world, currently accounting for 5,981 firms spanning 158 industries. A successful case is ECOALF – combination of “ECOLOGY” and “ALFRED” – a Spanish company, founded in 2009, operating in the apparel industry, manufacturing its products with fabrics made from 100% recycledplastic, cotton, wood, coffee, fishnet, and tires. In 2018, the company obtained the B-Corporation certification, recognizing its core business as being an environmentally responsible business while still seeking to make profit at the same time. In this same year, ECOALF was already a case of success with a product portfolio with high quality garments, footwear, and accessories featuring in various global media outlets (i.e., The economist; Bloomberg; etc.), essentially becoming an icon of the sustainable fashion industry.
All this success is greatly due to several and heavy investments that the company made in research and development to create a unique and unparalleled production process and input fabrics, as well as cooperating with well-known brands and personalities, creating alliances and partnerships to increase brand awareness.
All in all, ECOALF is a success story among many others that is able to showcase that, with help and having the right direction and goals in mind, there is a growing market directed towards sustainability yet to be fully explored by companies, challenging them to attract investors and entrepreneurs through impact investments for an area that benefits everyone.
However, at the end of the day, there is still a long path to forge before a fully sustainable, greener, and circular economy is reached. Nevertheless, efforts by various entities, authorities and companies trying to channel the effort of society towards that end are remarkable and seem promising.
Sources: Forbes, Google, Amazon, The Verge, B Lab, Pasquini, Martina; Kolk, Berend van der. (2019). “Because There Is No Planet B: El Caso de ECOALF”. In IE Publishing