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Are the apocalypse and nirvana, two sides of the same coin?

Andrew Reid and Kuba Jugo debate.

Kuba: “In 2020 the world has been turned upside down. We still don’t know for how long. Many companies may struggle with cash flow and turn inward to focus on essential operations. In this atmosphere, could sustainable business practices and strategies be all too easily put on hold?”  

Andrew: “They can seem like slow-burn issues (no pun intended); i.e. not essential for survival right now. And of course, there is some truth in that reality. An airline fighting for survival may not prioritise carbon off-set when they take to the skies again. However, the future will belong to those brands who chart a new course in hard times.”

Kuba: “On the surface, some new COVID behaviours appear to reverse some sustainable trends. For example, reusable bags at supermarkets are not that welcome any more. Plastic seems cleaner. Disposable packaging and plastic wraps seem like a method of preventing the virus from entering homes. It may appear that we’re experiencing a headwind that is threatening whatever progress we have made towards sustainable development. But, is that misleading? COVID-19 may have given us a priceless gift – tangible proof that we do impact the environment and that we can reverse the effect with collective action. It’s in our power to change. And big brands, with their consumers, can play a decisive role in reshaping ‘consumerism’.”

Andrew: Indeed, the time for responsible consumerism has arrived. And since the global market has evolved into a consumer-centric structure, resistance shouldn’t be an issue. Consumers will expect responsible behaviour from brands. Profit no longer needs to be the only goal. There is a bigger picture. But, how to support the cause without seeming opportunistic or beating a drum seemingly over a far-horizon, is a challenge.”

Kuba: “True, there’s no escaping, we’re becoming increasingly aware of how linked we are to the planet through health and well-being (aka COVID). From New York to Beijing the benefits of fewer planes, cars and factories, pumping out products and pollutants, is palpable.  However, that may not be enough to bring about a sea-change. Things could all too easily return to a “new” normal, where the climate can get kicked down the road or worse, into the long grass. What’s the solution here?”  

Andrew: “Climate change can seem like someone else’s problem, even when it’s ravaging communities in far-flung geographies on our screens. Brands need to be helping consumers and influencers to visualise the future and what the effects of climate change could look like, in our backyards. We have the technology to superimpose what might seem a distant priority: augmented reality (AR), mixed reality and VR, with good story-telling, can bring the apocalypse into our backyards – visualising what the effects of the business, as usual, could be in a decade or two and why we need to take steps now. Our interdependence is obvious in the wake of COVID. Immersive media, like AR, can be used to both paint the future if do nothing, and provide the vision of a better world, and inspire us to do something now.”

Meet the authors of this discussion: Andrew Reid and Kuba Jugo are two marketing colleagues at Shelton Fleming Associates, a creative agency re-imagining sustainable events.