And the world has changed. Will, actually, because it hasn’t yet. But it feels like it, because it is now so certain. So near. So clear.
It happened in Paris. Will, actually, because it hasn’t yet. This is still November. But we already know what the story will be when everyone goes home December 12 following the two-week COP21 UN Climate Conference in that most romantic of all cities.
What’s the big story? That we, as citizens and business people, can no longer do like an ostrich, but instead must fly like a Starling and face the future for what it has now become. I’ll give you a hint: it is anything but romantic.
It is, though, faceable. We can fly. We can prevail, but only if we prepare and not despair.
If you’re a business executive — and this column is written primarily with you in mind — think about the consequences to your business of ignoring or underestimating the market dynamics sure to follow Paris. Of not preparing adequately.
From a marketing perspective — and this column is also written with marketing in mind — think about the opportunity you have to be among the companies that will thrive, not just survive, as you shift strategies to build the kind of customer bond that locks out the competition precisely because of the way you approach and even redefine your business going forward.
Now, if you’re a social company, or one that exists primarily to serve people and create positive social and environmental change — and if you do it really well, to turn a healthy profit — what you’re about to read is even more aimed at you, for you are the ones best positioned to face the coming market dynamics and build the brands left standing when most fail to adapt.
You’re the ones most willing to get your head out of the sand, most focused on the work at hand, most likely to provide the solutions (products and services) sure to become the winning brands.
HERE ARE THE FACTS
We were all hoping Paris would keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above the historical average — we’re already at just about 1 degree — since that would trigger massive economic and social collapse in every country, market and industry on Earth.
Climate scientists have gone as far as to say that no matter the outcome of these negotiations, the carbon already in the atmosphere and the sure emissions in the coming years are enough to blow past 2C. But we were still holding out hope.
Well, those hopes have been all but dashed. We don’t have to wait for Paris. Read the stories. All of them, if you’re so inclined. I did. It’s important. We should all read them all.
The best COP21 will do is 3.5C, though I’m with those analysts who suspect the voluntary nature of the Paris commitments and the unresolved, truly vexing differences over equity and finance will leave us closer to 4C. That’s the level, BTW, a not-so-fun-fact, that would trigger human extinction.
So we must all be extremely happy Paris happened, that our leaders now know how far off they are and what they must do in the coming years to make damn sure we don’t cross that 4C threshold.
The 2C-4C economy we are left with, however, is nothing to laugh at, so even before the opening bell of COP21, country delegations and business groups around the world are scratching for ways to ratchet up those commitments beyond December 12.
Some are playing up the possibility of finishing the job and keeping below 2C. But again, as you’ll read in all those stories, the raw science at this stage of the game, plus the fact Paris fell so short of 2C, and the still lingering reasons Paris fell so short, mean we must now play the probabilities, not the possibilities, and the probabilities tell us decisively to shift our business strategies and prepare for a post-2C collapse economy.
That, my friends, is the only smart, visionary AND humane thing for a company to do. Good for business. Good for people. ANY strategy that still assumes we will remain an under-2C growth global economy is beyond ostrich thinking. That is the change Paris will bring.
It would take a miracle to stay within 2C, and miracles do happen. Yes. They do. But no sane business leader runs a company based on a miracle scenario. You look to win, make money and achieve your social purpose based on a reasoned analysis of what is most likely to happen.
So here’s an easy prediction. As the aftermath of Paris streams madly into the national and global conscience and people everywhere realize that we can no longer put this off, nor keep waiting for our governments to save the planet, that this time it’s for real, that it is now up to us to get it done, the entire climate-related conversation will change.
Look for today’s shove-under-the-rug approach to give way to a healthy engagement and exploration of smart adjustments, starting the morning after, as it were, early 2016. Then look for all manner of well-positioned solutions (products and services) to absolutely take off and mainstream. Exponentially. At Google and Uber magnitudes of speed and scale.
For you as a business, the time has therefore come, ahora, today, to redefine your role and your brand within this rising sea of opportunities. That places marketers and strategists in a central position, since redefinition requires a different map for business as they travel the road ahead, a map we’re in a lead position to provide. So let’s go there now.
WHERE IS THIS GOING?
The first challenge that comes to mind is when, so we may plan accordingly. When will we hit 2C? And keep in mind some scientists expect collapse to trigger at 1.5C-1.7C, not 2C. I find their evidence quite convincing. For the sake of this column, however, the difference is not material. We have to prepare just the same.
The short answer is that no one knows for certain. It might happen as soon as the 2020s or closer to 2050. No scientist I respect expects it to happen later. Since we can’t pin down a precise date, the only way to go is to begin your change immediately, knowing how long these corporate transformations tend to take.
The second challenge is what. What can and must we do as companies and brands to prepare, and what approach should and must we take in our strategies?
The answer to that one would fill a book. Perhaps I should get started! We can certainly feel surer of this response, and it begins with identifying the market segments most likely to enjoy the greatest demand in a collapse economy.
They fall generally in two umbrella categories. The first is mitigation, or solutions aimed at minimizing carbon emissions and biodiversity depletion. It has been the focus of the green and social-change economy for more than two decades. Nothing new there.
What is new is what I would call the post-Paris acceleration imperative. We must accelerate mitigation solutions like never before to stay as far away from 4C as possible and come as close to 2C as possible.
There’s solar power — particularly distributed and district — building efficiency, the circular economy, the sharing economy, electric and fuel-cell vehicles, mass transit and smart-growth urban solutions, regenerative forestry and fishing practices, consumer products, green logistics, and more.
If you’re already in this space, you’re positioned. If not, get in without the slightest delay. Launch bold special initiatives to catapult your brand. Follow with advanced content marketing to get your message out using compelling storytelling that will draw consumers to your brand, backed by marketing/CRM automation to convert those leads into sales.
And then turn those sales into lifetime bonds, for as McKinsey reminds us in this article, the consumer journey is undergoing a significant shift. Marketing’s holy grail has always been to get customers to so fall in love with you that once they enjoy your brand, they enter the loyalty loop in the image below and bond with you for life, without leaving the loop again to consider and evaluate your competition.
The shift now is all about digital, allowing you to so engage and analyze your customers, to so build a tight-knit community with them, that the advocacy and bond quotients rise off the charts and they stick with you through thick and thin.
To be sure, marketing is not the only thing that delivers bonding at this level. You have to manage operations a certain way to ensure consistent quality and service at every customer touchpoint.
But know with the highest confidence that in a 2C-4C economy, the solutions that will sell most will be yours. Will be these. And should the miracle happen and we fall short of 2C, the rush to mitigate will nonetheless create a wave you will want to ride.
THE ZONE OF LOVE
Remember, though: we can’t plan for a miracle. We have to plan for what is most likely, and that is 2C-4C, which brings us to the other umbrella: Resilience.
Here, we enter another zone — well, actually two. The better known is physical, infrastructural adaptation: buildings, sea-level barriers, food security, back-up IT systems, supply-chain logistics, that sort of thing.
If you’re in one of these industries, your time has come to shine. Step up. Plan for some serious investment by governments, companies and homeowners alike, as they scramble to come to terms with our new post-Paris world and hurry adaptation measures into place.
The exponential mainstreaming will happen with resilience as with mitigation. So must the same marketing and operations response.
The other zone, explained previously in this column, is far more incipient and therefore ought to be a new target of obsessive strategizing and action by visionary corporate leaders from this point forward, as it already is by smaller-scale sociopreneurs in every corner of the planet.
The latter is the audience I want to address right now, for this isn’t a front we must attack only with passion and obsession. This is a front we must attack, even more so, with love and compassion, because this is the space where our brands and solutions come to the aid of human beings awakening on the morning after to the realities of collapse and dealing with the daily consequences.
I mentioned earlier that social-change enterprises and entrepreneurs are particularly well-suited for a collapse economy, and this is why. They are in it for the people, driven mainly and genuinely — not greenwashingly or as a secondary strategy — to solve the most difficult human needs first. Profits follow.
If you are not one such brand, the first strategic suggestion is to make the switch, because in a collapse economy, the business that cares most, and that cares most authentically, has a better shot at winning.
But if you are one such brand, if you’re already there doing the inspiring work on the ground, know that you are on the spot like never before. Your services will be needed like never before, by more people in more places than ever before. Your moral and emotional strength will be tested, as will your business savviness and management depth, because you will be called on to scale, rapidly, to go beyond your comfort zone, to stretch your capabilities. And you MUST be ready.
You must be ready because your community, your customer base, because the world, will flock to you, to your staff, to your love, like never before.
Human resilience, from a strategic perspective, comes down to at least 7 market segments in need of social companies, and I say “at least” because surely there are others. You’re invited in the comments below to suggest the ones you see. I highlight these because they require only individual and/or communal action, as opposed to more systemic theaters calling for policy and/or industry leadership.
Most of the 7 are mitigation segments, as well. The difference is means and purpose. Big mitigation is done mainly by big players, with the purpose of slashing carbon and preserving resources. Human resilience generally falls on smaller, more local, less capital-rich shoulders, with the purpose of slashing pain and preserving as much prosperity and quality of life as possible.
- Food and water. In a collapse economy, nothing will be more important. Already, at just about 1C, we’re seeing serious disruptions everywhere, particularly in the bulging cities of less-developed societies, precisely where population growth will be highest in the coming decades. Easy prediction: supply-chain interruptions will keep food and water from stores, so if you’re in such services as urban farming, rain harvesting, desalination, permaculture, and so many others, prepare to multiply.
- Distributed energy. Our larger brothers and sisters will handle utility scale. Your job is to cover every community roof with solar panels and every neighborhood and building cluster with district solar. When the energy shit hits the fan and either your utility is no longer able to distribute, or you must relocate to a more habitable remote site, off-grid solar will be it.
- Inner circles. We’re headed for a time sure to remind historians of ancient Mediterranean plagues. The most resilient communities turned out to be, invariably, those with the tightest human bonds and inner circles — family, church, neighbors, close friends, coworkers. They resisted and prevailed because they helped each other more than other communities. Shared. Healed. Comforted. Fed. Clothed. These are profound human connections, and behind them are your products and services, because these are customers who respond to companies that care and are themselves part of the community. If you prepare well, brand well, market well, and start now, you will capitalize on the loyalty loop, while your traditional-minded competitors are left wondering what just happened. (More in this 2012 column.)
- Healthcare. Speaking of healing, imagine this need in a collapse economy! Are you in this space now? Wow. The opportunities… No further explanation needed.
- Savings. People need to save as much money as they can when facing a collapse like this, as they do in an economic depression, a war, famine or civil strife. One of the most deleterious dimensions of these crises is their underlying inequality. The wealthier, the more resilient. The poorer, the less. Cash runs out very quickly. So if you’re in the personal finance or advisory business, credit cooperative, microloan lender, or other such field, become inspired by Yunus. Market yourself and gain lots of clients who will complement their income, launch microbusinesses, build their savings, and know what to do with it.
- Location. Some places will be impacted less by climate change than others, or will be impacted later. If you’re in the travel-agency or relocation business, you’re in for some serious growth, as well, to the extent you help people spare the worst and secure a better place on Earth. For guidance, check out this Google search. There is one link I didn’t find there and haven’t found yet, and it comes back to point #3 above, especially for people who don’t have a tight-knit inner circle of mutual saviors where they live. How can we help them find one and relocate to that place? I’m thinking transition communities, of which there are now more than a thousand, or farm and forest communities, who can certainly teach city folks a thing or two about living off the land. There is a huge opportunity for sociopreneurs who step into that void and fill it.
- Spirit. I left this one for last, not by any stretch as a sign of relative importance, but rather because it is the realm of inner resilience, and that generally strikes people as divorced from business. But it is not. It is, though, to be sure, far more — indeed, overwhelmingly more, as the word says — about spirit, both the one that animates your attitude and mood, as well as the one connected to the soul and afterlife. For some, mainly the religious and faith-driven, there is no difference. For others, the focus is the former. For a social enterprise in this space, and there are gigatons of you everywhere, the important thing is to see which one you’re aligned with and scale urgently from there. For consumers, it will no doubt be one of the most critical services they flock to, given the emotional and spiritual challenges to come. They will be looking to your skill as well as your love, perhaps more than in the other segments. This is as personal as it gets. So if you’re this brand of social business, you are as special as it gets. For inspiration, check out the words of Arjun Appadurai and expand your brand’s role in this brave new space.
SPEED & SCALE
If I were doing a group activity and we were all sitting in a large circle, I would put on some soothing meditation music, dim the lights, and speaking softly would ask you to close your eyes for a moment. I would ask you to envision millions of these companies and individuals pouring out their collective heart across communities everywhere. Transforming lives. Creating waves of love and resilience, like rain drops on a pond.
It doesn’t take collapse. Social enterprises have been doing this forever. It is what loving people do when they venture out to make a living giving. Some grow pretty big. Some stay small — a few employees, one-person shops. Their networks overlap and coalesce.
In a 2C-4C world, we can’t afford them, YOU, staying small. You have to scale, even if within your own city, and you have to scale urgently. You really do have to start right away, to set up and brand yourself accordingly — deploy today’s digital tools, drive customers into your loyalty loop.
I happen to be part of three organizations that stand ready to help. COMMON brings social enterprises together under a single brand, the COMMON brand, complete with support services of the highest caliber, to stand with you as you strengthen your operation and market your services locally and beyond. The goal is to co-create a redefinition of business to prepare you and the world for the future that’s coming at us like a category 5 hurricane, and to lead the post-Paris imperative of acceleration.
Earthworm operates on a different dimension. It identifies inspiring stories around the world of compassionate people and companies doing transformative work on the ground, brings people together in Change Labs of reflection and action, and seeks to trigger collaboration so extraordinary as to mimic murmuration, the stunning flight patterns created by the Starling birds we are called on to become.
Then there’s the U.S. and World Green Building Council, which while focused on creating a more resilient built environment, has become deeply involved advocating for a more habitable future across other related fronts.
All three are all into joining forces, because it is beyond dispute that when people and companies come together to create social and environmental change, transformation happens. And in a 2C-4C economy, that is exactly what we will need, the one thing that in the middle of it all will bring hope and comfort to an uncertain planet.
So yes, it’s The Morning After, the title of the poem Scottish activist Christine De Luca wrote last year as a hymn to the struggle for independence, but it applies perfectly to the hard, inspiring work before us on the eco-social-business front everywhere. Here’s a shortened version:
Let none wake despondent; one way or another we have talked plainly, tested ourselves, weighed up the sum of our knowing, checked the balance sheet of risk and fearlessness, of wisdom and folly.
We aim for the common weal, a hand stretched out in ready hospitality. It’s those unseen things that bind us. There are dragons to slay whatever happens: poverty, false pride, sectarian schisms still hovering. But there’s nothing broken that’s not repairable.
We’re a culture that imparts, inspires, demands a rare devotion; that each should work and play our several parts to bring about the best in Scotland, an open heart.
Replace “Scotland” with “us”, and there you have it. The historic project ahead. It is the best in us indeed, where citizen and business person come together as one in each one, where we all come together as one in each community — one mind, one soul, one very open heart.
This, too, must be the change Paris brings. We can pray for a miracle, but we can’t plan on it. It is time to redefine. It is our time, and the last thing we can waste, is time.
Paris is yesterday. Let’s go.