Can brands save us, if governments are failing to?

May 30, 2019

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Stefania Parousi

We live in an era where the world is "falling apart", at the same time we also now have the power to express how we feel and what we want louder than ever.

Citizen-led activism has flourished in the last few years, and has been challenging governments and companies to address social and environmental issues that are threatening this planet. People are out on the streets demanding what they want.

  • 5 million women in India lined up across the length of the state of Kerala to demand equal treatment as men when entering places of worship.

  • School climate change strikes started by Greta Thunberg are estimated to have more than 1.4 million young people taking part.

  • Extinction Rebellion, a UK action group calling for immediate action on climate change, has spread to more than 35 countries.

Taking to the streets and protesting is not for everyone. Each individual expresses their voice in the way they find fitting. However, we all express our needs on a daily basis, whether we want it or not through how we shop, how we work, how we commute, how we travel etc. All these 'hows' involve numerous brands, which we choose to use.

Why do we choose brands? On a very high level, because of loyalty, trust, alignment of core values and because they reflect who we are and help us express ourselves, or because people that we admire or trust choose them.

At the moment, small brands supporting ethical consumption and/or production are having a moment. It's intriguing how they are threatening big brands; pushing them to do the same. There is a noticeable change happening. A few examples:

  • Adidas is launching environmentally friendly, 100% recyclable running shoes.

  • Waitrose pilot packaging-free stores, to get shoppers using less plastic.

  • Google recently met its 100% renewable energy goal, joining Apple and Microsoft.

  • Levi's producing products more sustainably looking at their entire life cycle, while educating customers about it

You might not support these big brands, however millions of others do at the moment. It may feel ironic to look for help and hope in profit-driven organisations, but that's our reality. There's a separate question around how sincere or impactful changes in these big corporations can be. But irrespective, those commercial giants are changing because of small actions, choices and behaviours made by you and me. Every 'like' on social media has an actual impact on the brand's behaviour. Brands respond to these numbers, and those numbers create change.

For this blog, the main question was "Can brands save us, since governments are failing to do so?"

63% of Millennials agree that companies have a more important role than governments in creating a better future: as do 60% of Gen Xers and 55% of Baby Boomers.

As consumers, we make purchases from brands and as designers, we work with them to keep them profitable. In both roles, we have an obligation to make a positive change in the world. Designers are trained to help clients "define the ultimate goal and the path to achieve it" (Steven Heller), while advocating for users' needs.

It is increasingly clear that if we keep consuming at the pace we do today, supporting brands blindly as consumers and not pushing clients as designers to respect the very loud voices of their users, life on this earth will be highly threatened - as it is already.

I believe that brands change with their customers, at least the ones who live by their values. So as the consumer we need to show brands what we want, and as the designer we should impress upon our clients the importance of addressing the social and environmental issues that they contribute to.

At the end of the day, in order for us to have a chance of continuing to live as we do currently, everyone needs to make a change whether they do it for personal, commercial or political reasons.

Special thanks to Hanna for helping me write my first blog 😄!