The Trend Towards Social Impact
By: Jamie Lee
It seems that there’s currently a trend towards social impact. Companies are starting to wake up to the damage they cause and are realizing that if they want their brand to survive in the long-run, they have to implement at least some sort of CSR campaign to justify their actions and clear up their name. This shift in the last couple of years got me thinking about how this trend arose in the first place.
Is it because the new generation of young people just happens to be more socially-conscious? Or has there been a general awakening of society towards social causes? Why does it seem that young people these days are more mindful of their consumer choices and care more about their impact? Do millennials care more about social impact than previous generations?
Of course, before we can make any assumptions about millennials, we have to look at the stats. According to Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. Millennials are starting to demand more from brands and are holding companies accountable for their actions. This shift in perspective in consumer culture is a new attitude that leans toward “conscious consumerism”. Conscious consumerism is the personal choice towards the consumption of goods and services that have social and environmental aspects entrenched in their business models.
So if that’s the case, why do millennials seem to care more about social impact than the generation before? What makes them different?
While it’s hard to generalize for a generation as a whole, there are several potential reasons why such a high proportion of millennials prefer socially-conscious brands.
Due to the rise of the internet and globalization, millennials grew up hearing about global challenges faced all over the world, including terrorism, political tensions, extreme poverty and climate change. Information is readily available, and we are more informed than ever about the injustices and problems that exist. Having been exposed to these issues, millennials are more likely to have developed stronger empathy and thus recognize that change is needed. Injustices that exist across the world are no longer just considered as “their” problems as we can feel close to causes far away without even being there. No longer isolated in their own bubbles, the new generation feels like they have a responsibility to take care of the world rather than just themselves.
In addition, as the new generation is so connected through social media, image has become increasingly important. They want to align themselves with brands with the same values as themselves to reinforce their identity. It can also be said that millennials are able to be more socially-conscious in purchasing decisions because they now live in more comfortable economic conditions and thus can afford to make a distinction amongst purchasing decisions.
However, are millennials really more aware and “good” than previous generations?
One can also argue that this is not the case. Rather than being more informed and having a stronger desire for social change, maybe millennials have just found a different approach to tackling social problems. Whereas in the past, people spoke out through civil activism, millennials these days use their purchasing decisions as a method of voicing their opinions and showing support for causes. The new generation now considers their consumer choices to be the most powerful method of affecting social change.
And rightfully so.
As stated by Anne Lappé, an author and advocate for sustainable food systems, “Every time you spend money, you vote for the type of world you want”. By spending money on brands that are socially-conscious, you are supporting action towards a better future. On the flipside, by boycotting brands that are causing harm, consumers can incite companies to make changes to their ways. For example, in 2016, consumers decided to boycott against the brand Oasis for partnering with Pinder Circus which was accused of animal abuse. Oasis responded and accepted the demands of boycotters leading to the lifting of the boycott, demonstrating how consumer purchasing actions can sway company actions.
So what does this all mean?
Regardless of the reasons, it’s indisputable that there is a trend towards social impact. Consumers are demanding responsible behaviour and companies need to adapt to meet these expectations.
However, as businesses become more conscious of consumers’ demands for social responsibility, there is also a risk of artificial promises towards important causes, for example in the case of greenwashing. Greenwashing occurs when a company makes misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service or company practice in the hopes of making the company appear environmentally friendly when in fact it is not. This practice may occur when companies attempt to satisfy the demands of customers for more sustainable practices, for the sake of their brand image, without actually making substantial changes for the better. In this case, consumers must be wary of the unmet false promises made by companies and should do appropriate research before making purchasing decisions.
On the other hand, consumers’ pressure on companies can also successfully shift their focus towards more sustainable practices. This change in attitude may be considered disingenuous because the company would be pursuing social impact for the sake of pleasing customers rather than doing good. But at the end of the day, they are still making a positive impact, so we’re moving in the right direction, right?
Regardless, I would encourage you to take some time to reflect upon how you can individually make an impact. Consumerism is a huge driver in our society today. By taking into consideration the values and practices of the brands from which we purchase products and services, we can continue to push towards more sustainable business. Although seemingly small, you have the power as a consumer to speak out against bad practices and support the good ones with your dollar. Whether this is just a new fad or a real change for the better, we should continue to encourage conversations about sustainable business practices in hope that we can make a difference.