More Ambition for Companies Too
Companies must do their part in addressing the climate emergency: they can help drive change.
By Emma Leoni | YPA Italy
“Today, the consumer has become a ‘consum-actor,’ able to influence production methods through his or her consumption choices,” argues lawyer and food law expert Dario Dongo, who had promoted the free palm oil campaign in Italy. Businesses, industries and companies, in fact, have started to take into consideration and confront their consumers, collecting data about their behaviors and demands, because they are conscious of the fact that the shifting power is in the consumer’s hands. Actually, this fruitful relationship can make big impacts in the grand scheme of things. “Solving the climate crisis without the consumers is not possible” as Ruth Cranston (Sainsbury’s) said, but both sides have to do their own part.
All consumers must become critical consumers, educate themselves to direct their investments and expenses towards companies who genuinely care about making the world a better place or, more simply, become aware of the impact of their daily purchases. Achieving the net zero GHG emissions goal is strictly related to a substantial change in individual behaviors. Lots of consumers want to reduce their impact on the climate system, but there is a mismatching between the actions that they think are the most impactful ones and what is really needed. For example, many actions aim at reducing plastic use or recycling more but only a few focus on their diet or their way of travel, neglecting two of the most emissive sectors, food production and transportation.
However, the trend is changing: 39% of UK citizens are eating increasingly more plant-based food, as communicated during the COP26 event “Changing consumer behavior”. In Italy (we are talking about 10 million families and about 22 million individual consumers), plant-based products have entered the food choices of 37.9% of Italian families – data provided by Unione italiana food. Flexitarian consumers are also growing: people who decided to reduce their animal protein consumption, either for health or environmental reasons, opting for plant-based alternatives to reduce meat and fish consumption as much as possible. In general, even if there is still some confusion, people start to be aware about the influence they have, but it’s not enough.
Companies must do their part: they can contribute to driving the change. Collecting data is crucial to better analyse and understand the consumers’ behaviors, to accompany the customers towards new purchasing attitudes that are better for both the health and the environment. Nowadays, sustainability is a much fashionable trend and lots of brands know that: this may not necessarily lead to greenwashing actions, as often thought. But, there is definitely a lack of common line, of trustworthy information, of clear and simple labels to communicate the products, to provide diverse and affordable choices, and, in general, a low level of transparency is observed. These issues must be solved to really help the consumers make sustainable choices.
Here at the COP26, the UNFCCC decided to be transparent about the food provided to the delegates: all catering stands around the delegations’ pavilions have labels that inform about the CO2 footprint of every meal that is served, so everyone can be aware of the impact of their choice. Clear and simple information is essential to empower the consumers and to stimulate them to take responsibility for their choices, for behavioral shifts are strictly related with the perception that people have about their impact, especially in the case of climate change.
From the companies, not only greater transparency is expected but also the willingness to encourage less impactful behaviors, by offering more choices to the customers and showing a clear ambition. Behavioural change is about structural system transformation, ensuring participation and ownership, making the new choices clear, easy and affordable. The nudging technique – intervene proactively on the choice architecture, so as to encourage users, consumers, citizens to choose certain options and not others, without them feeling forced to do so or perceiving it as imposed actions – could be an alternative way to gently push consumers towards a certain choice, leading to more sustainable, more eco-friendly, lower impact products.
Changes in consumption perceptions, attitudes, behaviors and habits can have wider effects, such as shifts in public policies, changes in corporations’ investments and, as a consequence, a relevant contribution to contrasting climate change. The sum of the impact of each individual’s actions equates to big changes in the grand scheme of things. Changing our consumption habits is what we can do today. Together we have the power to make a difference: let’s unite our efforts, we want you too!