SXSW – South by Southwest

Giovan Orefica
March 13, 2023 – 20:27

How can you not remember the movement against plastic straws that devastated the minds of consumers in favor of marine life? Something so enormous could not have come from a single mind – and that statement is a lie. Or even when there was some sort of social pact to stop using aerosol deodorant to save the ozone layer. What does the environment take from all this?

Panel “Climate crisis vs. Consumer Culture: How We’re Changing,” presented by Amy Davis of Cummins Inc; Kristina Lund from AES; Mark Newton of Samsung; and Ashlee Piper (credit: Giovana Oréfice)

Such movements have emerged from countless individual manifestations capable of moving mountains, or rather, moving brands and industries. “Other people see what we do individually, and that has the power to be incredibly influential, which is important to remember and empower ourselves,” said Ashlee Piper, strategic strategist, author and sustainability expert. She was a guest in the show Climate Crisis vs. Consumer culture: how we are changing.

Recently, there is a clear demand from society. Amy Davis of Cummins Inc stated that “the voice of the consumer matters”. To illustrate, consumers are increasingly demanding that delivery cars from big names like Amazon be electric. The example shows an interesting counterpoint that, at the same time that consumption is growing (see the growth of e-commerce during the pandemic), there is concern that at a certain point something good is being done to reduce its effects.

One of the topics discussed during the conversation was consumerism, which according to the speakers has become something “patriotic” when talking about the United States. Almost like a vicious cycle, excessive consumerism is largely fueled by marketing that has knowledge of buying behavior and habits. In addition, consumerism is inserted into the era of digital culture, where individuals are encouraged to buy in order to feel they belong to certain groups, leading to overproduction.

When this is applied at scale, efforts are magnified, as there is a mission to engage not only consumers in the conversation, but also stakeholders. Mark Newton, head of corporate sustainability at Samsung Electronics North America, emphasized the importance of companies having goals related to reducing – or even eliminating – their impact on the planet. But more than that, it is necessary to communicate to consumers what is being done.

information is power

It could be said that we currently live in a two-way street: while it is easy to get feedback from consumers, it should be just as easy to get information to them. “We have to humanize these messages,” said Newton, who also stressed that companies should use their voice and influence to support the issue. “One of the things we’ve learned in terms of how to communicate more effectively is to talk more about how we implement some of the actions, and not just incorporate 30% recycled material into our headphones,” said the head of Samsung.

Furthermore, today the world is facing the so-calledclimate anxiety” (“climate anxiety”), which is even more present in Generation Z. However, it is not possible to passively wait for the manifestation of society. It is also the duty of companies to raise the alarm to solve a problem that is, to a large extent, their own responsibility to work on a solution: “Millennials and younger generations really want companies that will make them human. They want to hold companies accountable for what they’ve been doing,” Ashlee echoed.

In general, new generations are responsible for raising awareness of the urgency of action. However, there is another side of the coin. Despite the alarm about climate change, little is said about what can actually be done to avoid it. Ask the children to name five brands based on their logos and they will tell you what they are. Now get them to name the plants from the pictures and you will see that there is a problem. This simple exercise was suggested by Isaias Hernández, environmental educator and owner of the profile @QueerBrownVegan.

The road is still empty

It’s worth mentioning that while it’s been widespread in recent years, the conversation isn’t exactly inclusive. The panel “How Climate Storytelling Can Beat Climate Doom” raised the question that we can’t talk about the topic without including issues of race and origin.

Diandra Marizet, executive director of Intersectional Environmentalist, classified the latter as the piece that is still missing in the puzzling puzzle of the search for solutions in this new world. She pointed out that one of the first to talk about this topic were black and indigenous authors, who have been writing about the relationship between people and the Earth since the beginning of time. The question can be brought to the present: how many black activists, climate advocates and environmentalists do we know?

This Monday afternoon, panelists gathered to discuss how storytelling can combat so-called “climate doom,” the idea that it’s already too late to act on global warming (Credit: Giovana Oréfice)

“There’s a climate duality story in the premise that portrays the situation in a dangerous way where people can actually spread misinformation,” Hernandez said. This issue also pervades the educational access injustices faced by minority groups. The discussion encourages the protagonism of these individuals in terms of actions for the protection of the atmosphere, environment, etc., since the opportunity leads to repertoires that give room for creativity.

More than the role of brands and advertising in spreading the message, the role of traditional media comes to the fore here. In general, the information we have is optimistic, but it still does not fulfill a large part of the educational role that should reach all layers of the population. “I think it is very important that people really support independent media and young ecologists, who are really trying to find their way in these areas and understand the dominant movement, the populist movement,” added the educator.

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