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Tara Ramanathan

Degree:

MBA

Location:

United States

Industry:

Social enterprise

Year:

2017-18

By Tara Ramanathan

Want people to take action on climate change? It needs to be as easy as using Tinder.

On July 15, 2018 I got a very clearly laid out email suggesting two actions I can take to #movethedate for climate change. Move the Date is essentially a campaign to get humanity to take action on climate change before August 1 2018, which is Earth Overshoot Day (marks the day when we have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year). This is, of course, everyone’s responsibility. But the distribution of responsibility needs to be differentiated. The World Economic Forum announced that 50% of the world’s carbon emissions are caused by the wealthiest 10%. As someone who is a likely contributor to the 50% carbon emissions, I was excited and ready to learn about some concrete actions I could take.

These were the actions listed:

1) Travel with an eco-sensibility: Use hotels with renewable energy and/or rent electric cars instead of regular cars.

2) Start a population conversation: Download resources to start a population conversation in a way that doesn’t turn people off

Since I am a regular traveller for work, I clicked on #1. On this next page, they explained the importance of eco-sensible travel and how they defined it as renewable energy-based hotels. So I was convinced and ready to see a list of hotels that were eco-sensible. But to my surprise, there was no such list. All you see is a quick poll at the end saying “yes I will travel with an eco-sensibility”. I looked everywhere to find recommendations! Nothing.

So then I started doing my own Google search of eco-friendly hotels, and I got a long list of hotels but there seemed to be a very vague and broad definition of “eco-friendly”. Apparently being “earthquake-safe” counted along with “organic paint”. But for me, I was specifically thinking about hotels that are using renewable energy since that’s how the email was initially framed.

Then I found myself wondering “why is this so hard?” and “if it is this hard, who in their right mind is going to go through the effort to find the right hotel to stay at?”. Maybe my friends and family who are super dedicated to this and will spend hours researching the least carbon-intensive solutions for their lifestyle.

But the majority, including me, just get frustrated and return to our old habits of using Budget Car Rental or Expedia because we are trying to save time and money.

I think there is room for innovation in this space. Here are some ideas for anyone to take and run with:

  • Uber/Lyft for Electric cars: For those who can afford it, they can use this app and get rewarded by being able to brag to their community how they are reducing their footprint and by how much
  • Expedia for renewable energy-based hotels: Self-explanatory 🙂

I would definitely use these services in a heartbeat.

If you got nothing else from this blog, here’s my main point: For all of us working in the social impact space, before we ask a large population of people to change their behaviour, let’s ensure we’ve made it as easy as a few clicks for them to make that change.

The role model for this: ACLU People Power

Here’s a great example of an organisation that has made it SUPER EASY for people to take action. The ACLU’s People Power campaign has made it easy for American citizens to do voter engagement and civic engagement JUST BY TEXTING. Yes, I can vouch for the ease of this program. I’ve been doing it on weekends and weekdays. They sign you up on the platform, and assign you about 140 contacts per shift, AND they even provide you the template. So all you do is send the message to 140 people. They respond, and you again have custom messages to respond. AND they even have built in survey tool to log people’s responses.

With how busy all of our lives are, it needs to be THAT easy in order to get so many people on board. People are ready to take action. They see the world crumbling, but many people don’t know how they can make a difference. For all of us changemakers out there, let’s make sure we continue to have the end user in mind and never forget how nice it is when our lives are made easy by apps like Lyft and Tinder.

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  • Nicholas Russell

    For the last decade, sustainability has been a differentiator for consumer purchases, however rarely a driver in itself. If two products are equal in all other respects, consumers may (although not always) choose the more sustainable.

    A few examples:

    1) Uber in Porto offers a choice between ICE and electric vehicles, for the same price. However there are many more ICE vehicles, and therefore there’s a second price, which is time. Likelihood is that an ICE vehicle is nearby, whereas an EV may be more distant. If that’s a difference of a minute, it’s quite a low cost. If that’s 10 minutes, it’s quite a high cost and chances of customer switching behaviour is propositionally lower.

    2) There’s a brand called Norton Point https://www.nortonpoint.com which makes sunglasses from recycled ocean plastic. They’re not the first brand to do so, however, they are the first brand to make sunglasses in a style, with lens performance, and at a price point that matches traditional leaders like Ray-Ban. Prior designs highlighted the sustainable nature of the products and came with more premium prices, afaik failing to achieve traction. Given that Norton Point sold out of their first collection this summer, they seem to be onto something.

    3) Adidas worked with an excellent brand called Parley in 2017 for ocean plastic recycled shoes and sold out 1M of them. To the point where they became/have become collectible objects. Since, Adidas has looked at making more products out of ocean plastic, which compete directly with their main product lines. Again, no-cost sustainability – as the products compete on even basis with non-sustainable lines.

    If the consumer is offered two identical choices, one with conscious and one without, they’ll easily switch. If the product requires any sacrifice, it’s a very different conversation.

    4) Bulb in the UK offers an overall better energy experience, and that includes 100% green electricity, however also leads with a very competitive tariff and better customer service. They’re leveraging the advantages of a startup to reinvent the customer service process, along with smaller team to decrease costs, and then offering renewables besides that. One could say that in energy, renewables are necessary, but not sufficient. Many customers want to be green, however the majority will not pay a premium for it, nor will they deal with poor customer services to get it. Again here we see that if both options are performance-competitive in cost/experience, the sustainable option is a natural differentiator.

    5) Nearly a decade ago, Eurostar was looking at something similar to airplane carbon credits, and asked businesses if they would be interested in offsetting their Eurostar carbon emissions in a similar manner to airlines. The response was underwhelming. Business simply didn’t want to factor the question, hearing “would I pay more for the same thing because of a reputation benefit stakeholders may or may not care about?”

    They ended offsetting, therefore making the journey less carbon neutral, to focus on efficiency and then eventually switch to renewable generation. However, to consumers, Eurostar already offered a number of benefits, one which was lower carbon than equivalent air travel, the other being comfort, especially for families. In that case, Eurostar was the far better option already in its design. By driving up prices (or down margins/profits), carbon neutral offering actually reduced its attractiveness to consumers by increasing the price above airlines.

    In this case, while the Eurostar journey may not be carbon neutral today, it’s much lower carbon than equivalent airline trip, and its much easier for the company to offer price-competitive service and reduce its emissions, as compared to airlines.

    6) Before Tesla, auto manufacturers experiments with a variety of EV conversion programmes, however none really worked. Predominately due to the fact that ICE engines are massively overpowered for the basic requirements of passenger transport, and people purchase vehicles for a variety of emotional reasons. Accelerate/decelerating all that steel wasn’t a problem for an ICE engine, however rendered early EV trials meaningless. They simply could not swap out the drivetrain for an efficient version and create a product that anyone wanted to buy – beyond niche enthusiasts.

    EVs are tricky. They have a completely different offer than ICE cars. Some wins, some losses. The key was to look to resigning the car completely. The first step being lightweight materials. There’s much longer range if one accelerates and decelerates carbon fibre and aluminium over steel. The second step was to look at what EVs did better.

    Regulation helped here. In California, EVs were allowed to use the carpool lanes regardless of how many passengers were in the vehicle. In London, EVs are allowed in and out of the congestion zone free of charge.

    Also, EVs have a very different performance characteristic than ICE engines. They’re actually fun to drive in a completely different way. Further, they’re inherently digital. So we get Tesla. They didn’t only design an electric car, they designed a digital car that works like a phone. Over the air software upgrades and deep integration with apps. One of the reasons people love Tesla’s so much is that it works like their iPhone.

    BMW has slightly followed suit with the i3 and i8, however those remain niche experiments more than mass market vehicles. The vast majority of car makers really want the future to be hybrids. High-efficiency versions of the products that they already offer.

    While not a truly sustainable solution, it does bring up a similar thought to the Eurostar. Is are 100,000 hybrid BMWs better than 10,000 Teslas and 90,000 normal BMWs?

    7) Apple. First trillion dollar company. They introduced a recycling robot called Liam a few years ago, ostensibly as a sustainability credential. It could deconstruct an iPhone and pick it apart into pieces. A year later, they introduced an iPhone leasing programme, where the consumer purchases a leasing plan from Apple, and can trade in devices as new ones become available.

    To consumers, both these options look great. Updated phones, lower impact products. However, for Apple’s bottom line they are absolutely massive and may represent a competitive advantage that will help them further dominate the value chain. While Apple is the third-largest producer of phones by volume, they take like 80% of profit.

    They’re looking at a closed loop supply chain because they’ve already sourced the material once. They’ve validated it and put it into a device. The simple economics are if it is cheaper to purchase more new material, or recycle existing material? Given the strains on some of the rate earth commodities, it may well now be cheaper to recycle.

    So now, Apple is not selling you a phone, they’re leasing you a design. With Liam, when they design the phone, they can also design it for disassembly and recycling – which was the interface carpet model from mid 2000s. So win-win for consumer and Apple. Consumer always gets the best technology, and Apple gets both consumer lock-in and a more controlled supply chain.

    I offer these examples based on a decade of experience in consumer markets as related to sustainability. If what you are looking for is to make sustainability easy, it’s generally done on the back-end of the product. If I have my choice between two business hotels, and one is sustainable but poorer quality, and the other is unknown but higher quality, I’ll likely choose the latter as I’m being judged by clients not on sustainability credentials, but on overall experience.

    I once had a group of Western customers in China who were amazed that our boutique luxury hotel was also fully-carbon offset and constructed from local materials. They loved the hotel because the design was world-class, the restaurant was world-class, the services were better than many five stars. When they found out it was sustainable, it added an element of both novelty and authority. A few went back with their partners / families.

    So it is possible to filter results, however the majority of consumers are not (yet) driven by sustainability as primacy their purchasing decisions. This is in part because the leading brands over and over again prove that it is possible to deliver superior product performance and sustainability together.

    Therefore, sustainability is not a cost, but an opportunity. In terms of comparing it with political power, it’s quite different IMHO. Political power is a very specific type of consumable. Already we see that the interface between brand marketing tools and political decisions is nearly toxic, because there’s no pricing there. The price of political systems are paid for by tax, and there’s no direct immediate cost between choosing candidates, and therefore it doesn’t align to other purchase psychology in human behaviour (again, IMHO).

    As a final example in the social impact space, the Toilet Board Coalition is an interesting body. It’s an industry consortium dedicated to installing millions/billions of toilets in a very short amount of time. There was a ton of innovation in terms of changing what a toilet actually is, and what the offers actually were. Rather than bringing down the costs of existing toilets, they invented entire new categories of toilet. And this is an industry body that decided to do this without any lead from consumers – because consumers only knew that they could not afford toilets already on the market.

    So it’s not always about making sustainability or social impact easier. It’s equally about rethinking how you deliver the same product/service in a completely different way. Where is the website where I can go – like Expedia – where I will always come away with a hotel and have every offer be sustainable? Or more sustainable?

    There’s a Whole Foods example in there, but perhaps that’s a chat for another time. Good luck, great questions, keep going!