- Bodil S. Lund
Making Sustainability Trendy
Updated: Feb 9
I do not know about the places where you live, but in Denmark, where I live, it seems a new trend in clothes or food or technology or whatever swoops over the country every three months. Last winter, in a turn of events, that to me, seemed absolutely unprovoked, every young woman with an eye for fashion was wearing a gigantic puffer jacket and a home-knitted balaclava. A couple of years ago, the same thing happened in the food industry when lusciously green slices of avocado shipped in from Peru or Mexico were on every sandwich, salad, and breakfast in every hip café in town, and not long after that, you couldn’t plough your way through a lunch-menu without stumbling upon the exotic nut.
The very short longevity of avocados, the not-so-green amount of travel time, or how obscenely expensive they are, should be enough to make any hip café see through the glittering veil of the trend shortly after it had spiked. And the mere silliness of an adult woman wearing a balaclava should be enough to discredit the trendiness of any young influencer attempting to do so. Yet, for unknown reasons, the opposite always happens, and things that should be uncool become outrageously sexy.
Why do I suddenly think a beanie that goes all the way down to your neck with a hole cut out for your face is a good look? I should be smarter than this. And I really should have realised by now that avocados are not that tasty. There is just something about trends that tricks me into buying things I don't need - again and again. The lure and mystique of a new trend seem to have a way of completely messing up my judgment. Like everyone else, I am a victim of fast trends in fashion and lifestyle, and an accomplice to its dissipation. The question is, however, why has the same thing not happened to the one thing I sincerely want to be trendy: sustainable, plastic-free, green, environmentally concerned businesses. Why are all the start-ups and small businesses and new ideas in big businesses not completely overtaking the market “Tesla-style”?
There are sustainable movements in basically every community around the world, and lifestyle changes are growing in popularity. Among some politicians, it is becoming somewhat of a buzzword to be CO2-neutral, to secure renewable energy sources, clean up the oceans etc. Nonetheless, if I was working as a trend trader (i.e. an investor who chooses investments according to trends in the market) I would not yet be spotting that very important upward going trend in prices on sustainable products (such as superslick, mega effective electric cars like the Aptera that would make me bet massively on that product. I would not yet bet all my money on green energy sources, and I would not support the start-up with the recyclable, reusable, carbon-positive industry-changing product in a big way. I would of course buy a few Tesla stocks (while slightly fearing the rise in this stock is creating a bubble), support Musks and Bezos’ trips to space, and otherwise keep trading in oil and ammunition and pharmaceuticals. You know, the stuff that always sells.
Why is it that the slow rumblings of sustainable movements are not turning into massive industries and gaining control of the market like a fast-growing trend? The answer to this is most likely hiding somewhere in a comprehensive enquiry into major lobbying industries pushing certain diametrical agendas supported by the large number of people employed by these industries, or for other reasons in agreement with their views.
Alas, we will prevail! Sustainability will become trendy and at some point, even the stockbrokers and big money makers will realise that this train is not going to stop.
Here is how we are going to do it: (1) we find a theory of the spread of trends that sort of support our needs, (2) then we discover what is missing from our current situations surrounding sustainable products according to this theory, (3) and then we fix it!
(1) According to the Diffusion of Innovation theory created by Everett Rogers in 1962, there are five categories of people in society when separated into groups based on their willingness to adopt new products or ideas, and thereby turn them into trends:
The Innovators: The very ideal of the “first-mover”. They are risk-takers, price-insensitive, and able to cope with a high degree of uncertainty, and they do not follow trends to become popular. In fact, they are often overlooked in their attempt to innovate or simply frowned upon for their ridiculous attempts. And when they succeed, they become the Steve Jobs’ of their generation. Within a social group or population, they make up around 2.5 %.
Early Adopters: This is where you will find your average influencer or opinion-maker, the people who turn an innovation into a trend. They like to wait until the innovation receives some reviews before they jump on board, but when they do, that 13,5% of the population are key in making your product a hit.
Early Majority: As one of the two biggest groups of society at 34 %, when your trend reaches the minds of the early majority it becomes profitable, it moves from a cult to a global phenomenon, and it becomes the topic of every magazine, podcast, and radio show. These people are not risk-takers, but when they first take on a trend, they will support it vigorously.
Late Majority: At another 34 % of the population, the late majority is just slightly more suspicious than the early majority. They are conservative, often technologically shy, extremely cost-sensitive, and the trend will often be watered down when it reaches this group. They are not charmed by the newness of an innovation and are often peer pressured into finally catching on.
The Laggards: When the last 16 % of the population have adopted the trend, it should most likely not be referred to as a trend anymore. This is the graveyard where trends come to die. Laggards actively resist change, they will stick with the same product until it is virtually impossible, and they are forced into adopting novel ideas.
In our course to make hardworking, innovative, properly regenerative, sustainable companies (not companies with a few tricks and greenwashing techniques) trendy, we will use this theory, and from this discover the missing link.
(2) Our sustainability quest does not seem to lack innovators. There is basically someone in any business, big or small, calling on some sustainable trend that seems to be profitable and fitting with the agenda of the younger generation, or at least a greenwashing scheme that can do the same thing (which is of course not what we want, but to avoid it, we will need extremely alert and well-trained consumers. Turning every single person on this planet into a conscious consumer is definitely part of the long term plan!). Therefore, all we need for sustainable products and businesses to become a proper mass success is enough early adopters spreading the word, and the early majority catching on. After that, the late majority and laggards will have no choice but to eventually jump on board, as scary as it might seem.
Several factors could be the missing link explaining why the world has not been swooped up by an unstoppable wildfire of sustainable, zero-waste, carbon positive companies popping up everywhere (yet). It could be that our quest is lacking innovators of the right product - the exactly right sustainable company with enough uptake to completely overrun the fossil fuel industries etc. simply has yet to be invented.
I am not inclined to follow this route. The innovators are definitely doing their part. It seems as if the current situation is more a case of the early adopters and even the early majority having caught on while the late majority and laggards are being incredibly slow at picking up the trend - falling something like 30 years behind. Which is a surprisingly slow movement for any trend. Of course, sustainability is a large trend that will have an impact on each one of our lifestyle choices. Therefore, if you already have some laggard-ish tendencies a trend such as this might make you particularly uncomfortable. Furthermore, a lot of the industries that will be touched and possibly completely disrupted by sustainable development are massive corporate machines with big outreach who have been acting particularly laggard-ish.
Perhaps the break that seems to have been in the spread of the trend of sustainability over the last couple of decades is not arising from a specific group falling behind but from specific people in specific positions choosing not to be part of the early adopters or early majority. For instance, I find it strange how young, rich, famous people with huge platforms and a humongous following are driving around in L.A. in massive Range Rovers and flying around in private jets, instead of, for example, supporting the road to market for carbon-neutral jet fuel. Or spending some of their time and money convincing some of their followers that climate change is real.
Even though some of the elderly, more conscious actors and some tv-hosts have caught on, it still feels like the very urgent need for lifestyle changes have not made it to Hollywood yet. Why did the Avengers movies not have an environmental consultant on the payroll, and why were there never any headlines about all the cameras and gear being charged from renewable energy sources, and why are all the caravans (you know, the one’s all the actors live in) not equipped with solar panels. Why does it feel like everyone above a certain threshold of likes on their Instagrams are apparently excused for being laggards when it comes to climate change. I mean, yes, of course, they are vegans or vegetarians. But I expected more from the actual superheroes of this world.
(3) In conclusion, according to the Diffusion of Innovation theory and my short analysis of the situation, all we need for the soon-to-arrive massive market success of proper sustainable companies to arrive, are for the rich and famous to “get with the program”. As I am not expecting the board members of major corporations and other white collars to be the easiest to push out of their positions in the late majority (I am assuming that these people are choosing their social group according to the trend and therefore can be moved out of this group, as I do not believe rich people become rich from being technologically shy or opposed to innovations. They simply choose the innovations that will result in the largest and quickest profit and choose to remain unimpressed by innovations that will have a different result), I, therefore, argue that we should push the richest members of pop culture out of their comfy seats. Actors, musicians and reality stars need to start posting about plastic waste and the loss of biodiversity - and support businesses that are actually sustainable.
There you have it. Problem solved, hurdle overcometh. Now, all the famous people with the big social media platforms simply need to read this.