What a time to be alive! It’s no longer a silent collapse. Our world is finally awakening to the truth of climate disruption which is being spread faster globally than ever before thanks to social media and our hyper-connected world. As well as living in the technological age we’re also experiencing an age of awareness, transparency, and accountability. This accountability is also being forced on corporations globally as their ability to control the news agenda is no longer an option. Brand trust and brand truth are the new currency, and the business of business must be the survival of humanity, rather than purely striving for increased shareholder value.
Bent Sea Rod Bleaching. Photo credit: Kelsey Roberts, USGS.
It’s quite clear life is not a series of random events, but a pathway of awakening. If now feels as though human consciousness seems to be awakening from a long and deep slumber. This time of evolving awareness means it’s also time for business, society, and communicators to revise the human story. Normality to date has just been a crowd-sourced fantasy, but we’re now waking up to the reality of a resource-constrained world where temperatures continue to break records, and our ecosystems teeter on the brink of collapse. But it’s never too late to do a reality check and reimagine what our relationship could be with nature or what the story is that we’re telling our employees, companies or the world. As Margaret Heffernan stated ‘Willful blindness’ is as rife in the modern world as it always has been since time began.
With the rise in corporate whistleblowers, companies must be extra vigilant that their real motives aren’t revealed inadvertently if their products and services do in fact have a detrimental environmental impact as we have witnessed with Volkswagen and #DieselGate. Corporate fraudulent practices are endemic in all sectors of society with even our most trusted brands at the helm, and the environment is often the first to take the hit every time. However – misrepresenting the ‘story’ or fabricating it with our own angle is just part of human nature. The well-worn mantra about our revisiting our relationship with nature in our minds is one which some might see as annoying dogma however, it’s a reality that we all must all face up to if our lives of convenience are to continue unabated.
Communicators have long been part of the problem by peddling false narratives through compromised lobbyists and policymakers with hidden corporate agendas. We’re now really facing a story crisis about who we are and what our relationship is with both nature and the earth. Plastic has heightened the need for some reappraisal as previous generations have acted unknowingly gung-ho because plastic did, in fact, provide a panacea for all our human needs, but at a cost. This wonderful material that dominates every aspect of our lives is, without doubt clogging up our waterways, entering our food chain and ending up on our dinner plate. It’s not just in the food chain but contaminating our houses with minute particles that we’re breathing daily.
Central to a new narrative is that the earth is a living system and that we are at its mercy whether we like that concept or not. So, while the economy sustains us individually and some more handsomely than others, if there is no safe or sustaining environment then there will be no economy. A bit of a no-brainer really. A systemic collapse of untold magnitude seems to be looming in the not too distant future, but many still assume life will go on as normal. Again, we must revisit this notion of ’normal’ and how long it is realistic to talk about life in this way. Business, as usual, is not viable. Nor is consumption at the current scale alongside a burgeoning middle class and increasing global population.
We’ve all heard the negative news headlines, but we need a new way of telling the story sooner rather than later, and communicators are well placed to get to grips with this new reality because it’s simply not ‘business as usual’ and all about economic growth.
Understanding ethics and incorporating them into business is central to this revised human story alongside our ability to value natural capital. All decision making should have an ethical consideration as a basis. A society that doesn’t strive for total social equity never advances as we’ve been reminded by the gender pay gap disparity and #MeToo campaigns. Having clear ethics and purpose-driven values are key to framing the story and determining what narrative we should use.
We can look back to our not too distant history to the ancient Greeks for inspiration and reflect on the origin of many of the daily words and how their true meaning has been lost and misconstrued. In particular, we should reflect on the words ‘Ethics’, ‘Ecology’ and ‘Economy’. It’s sad that the wisdom of the ancient Greeks has been lost in translation alongside the stewardship of the things that we hold dear and are key to our survival.
‘Ethics’ or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong. The term ethics derives from Ancient Greek – ‘ethikos’, from ‘ethos’, meaning ‘habit’ or ‘custom’.
The word ‘ecology’ comes from the Greek Oikos, meaning “household,” “home,” or “place to live.” Thus, ecology deals with the organism and its environment. The concept of the environment includes both other organisms and physical surroundings.
The word ‘economy’ also derives from the Greek ‘oikonomia’ ‘household management’, based on Oikos again but in this context to mean ‘house’ + ‘nemein’ to ‘manage’.
The tension between ecology and economy is ironic because they share the common word eco – from Greek ‘Oikos’. It’s clear that our traditional economic model that results in the boom and bust scenarios is at odds with the ‘household management’ of our ‘ecosystem’.
The growth of environmental consciousness around plastic means we need to take radical steps to maintain an equilibrium and life on this planet. As cliché as this sounds many of us are still in denial and continue to buy excessive packaging because there are still limited alternatives. The new story needs to start with brands and communicators shifting the terminology and mindsets of the public from thinking of themselves as consumers to realizing their power as citizens. Being a consumer is only a small part of our identity. Our habits need to change too, for example, buying loose ingredients direct from farmers and independent food sellers and preparing food from scratch as our parents did instead of buying ready meals and pre-packaged produce. How many people cook from scratch these days?
About | Iain Patton DipIPR, BA, MCIPR, MCIM, AEMA. Follow @EthicalTeam also on LinkedIn
Iain is a sustainability communications, media outreach & PR practitioner who has worked with a number of climate, ethical and environmental related organisations including the Rainforest Alliance, Nature Conservancy, Global Green Growth Forum, 3GF, the Global Call For Climate Action (GCCA), COM+ Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development, the Business & Sustainable Development Commission and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).