It’s no secret that the Covid-19 crisis has transformed daily life for virtually everyone. And according to new research, it looks as though the pandemic has also changed our priorities in ways that could have permanent consequences for the planet—a fact we’ve been abruptly reminded of as the West Coast battles wildfires covering more land than the state of Rhode Island.
According to recent research released by The Harris Poll, climate change—considered the top issue facing American society as recently as last December—now ranks second to last ahead of overpopulation. Further, more than one-third of Gen X men dismissed climate change as “unimportant.” Another 13% of all respondents say the government should do nothing to improve the environment.
These findings should serve as a wake-up call and a rallying cry for brands and consumers who have been distracted with the fallout from the pandemic. The effects of climate change, however, will continue to be felt long after a vaccine for the pandemic is readily available.
Within the past month, tragic events directly related to the earth’s warming climate have unfolded in the United States. Dozens of wildfires have wreaked havoc across California, Oregon and Washington, covering the region in dense smoke, burning homes and businesses to the ground, claiming innocent lives. Over the summer, Death Valley recorded the hottest temperature on earth (130 degrees Fahrenheit), a derecho tore through the Midwest causing unprecedented damage and Hurricane Laura barreled into the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds.
The effects of climate change … will continue to be felt long after a vaccine for the pandemic is readily available.
Interestingly, while Americans are personally turning their focus away from environmental responsibility, they still expect companies to act responsibly. Half of Gen Z respondents say their opinion of a company is influenced by how the company behaves in society, second only to the quality of products and services.
It’s clear that the environment needs a champion again; at the same time, consumers appear increasingly in search of brand heroes.
To be successful in the long run, brands must continue to communicate and nurture their commitment to societal issues, including protecting the environment—even in a time when public opinion says it’s less fashionable to do so. Many brands have already demonstrated the business value of vocal environmental accountability. Oatly, Unilever, Tesla and Patagonia have firmly planted a stake in the ground, and reaped the benefits of early activism.
As David M. Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, points out, “There is not only an urgent need to act, but also a powerful business and investing case to do so.”
Now is the time for all brands that agree with this sentiment to stand up and help to refocus people’s minds on the importance of sustainability and each person’s responsibility when it comes to the environment.