I remember when comedians used to joke that “recycled” toilet paper was brown. When vegans were weed crackpots instead of cage fighters. When global warming seemed like a good idea on a cold day.
In a discussion group two decades ago, a lady corrected me by saying that “biodiversity” was actually “biological washing powder”. And even the changemakers were convinced that we could never talk about theft or meat consumption in relation to climate change.
Today, so many of these issues have moved from invisible issues, or jokes, to everyday reality. Globally, more than 70% of people now recognize the Sustainable Development Goals. If the leaks are to be believed, reducing theft and meat consumption will be part of the UN’s IPCC WG3 report on how to tackle climate change.
For decades, I’ve watched and helped create problems once thought of as “alternative” that have become so mainstream it’s easy to forget they were ever considered niche.
Yet when I try to convince brand and business leaders that more of these issues are headed to the mainstream, they’re still dodgy! I’m a little tired of saying “I told you so” when leaders are swept up in another crucial issue that could be seen coming for years.
So here are 5 issues that turned into world-changing movements and 1 that is happening so fast that if you don’t already have a clear plan for it, then you’re going to be left behind.
In the days of Tofurkey and shelf stable soy milk, veganism was a lifestyle choice made by a few radicals. Go back even as recently as 2014, and there were only 150,000 vegans in the UK, or around 0.2% of the population. A Cowspiracy documentary, millions of impossible burgers and even more cartons of oat milk later, and that number has now risen to around 8%. This change is happening in countries all over the world. And among those who have not yet adopted the “vegan” label, many eat less meat. All the signs point to an ever greener future.
For generations of women, their calls for equality have been dismissed as unnatural and indifferent, and corporations and brands have stayed away. But today, feminism is still a fight, but one that has been played out on central stages. by Sheryl Sandberg Bend over has sold over 4 million copies, the first annual Women’s March in 2017 attracted 100,000 protesters in London alone and the @feminist Instagram account has 6.4 million followers. Young people in particular see feminism as central to their identity, with more than two-thirds of 18-24 year olds identifying as feminists. There’s still a lot of work to be done to achieve gender equality and make feminism truly intersectional, but the demands for change aren’t going away anytime soon (or even ever).
Traditional conservation campaigns used images of death and destruction to inspire people to help save species and habitats – think caged monkeys, helpless elephants and lone rhinos. More recently, activists have realized the importance of putting humans back in the spotlight and cultivating the image of humans and non-human species co-existing happily. And it works: Google search data shows that public interest in conservation has been on the rise since 2004. We can expect to see this trend emerge particularly strongly among young people in the years to come.
It’s one of my favorites, proving how entire industries can ignore (or stall) a change, then rush to jump on the bandwagon just when it has passed them. In just a few short years, we’ve gone from documentaries about “who killed the electric car” to Tesla overturning all comfortable assumptions in Detroit. Even Bond went electric. It is thanks to their desirability that electric vehicles accounted for more than 11% of UK car sales in 2021, almost double the previous year. And as momentum builds, the barriers to buying a green car – cost, range and lack of charging stations – are quickly being dismantled. There are now 10 million electric cars on the road. And smart entrepreneurs in several different industries are taking note of this trajectory.
You can probably think of so many other topics that have been featured. But the one that is so central to solving our interconnected problems is still dangerously overlooked in boardrooms.
Climate action and social justice are the same movement, especially for communities who are experiencing the consequences of climate change and who are not the cause. Let’s be clear, this idea is not new. The intersection between our climate emergency and growing inequality was at the center of popular protests in the 1980s, and the first climate justice summit took place more than 20 years ago. But too few leaders have taken note of the need to approach climate action with justice and fairness, especially in companies where “environmental” and “social” issues are still managed by different teams.
This must change, and quickly. At COP26 last year, the words “climate justice” and “just transition” were included for the first time in a political declaration. The spotlight is no longer just on climate action, but on the impact that climate change and its solutions have on the first and most affected. Ask yourself, do you know what climate justice is? Do you have a plan to integrate your human rights efforts into your Net Zero plans? Have you updated your ESG plan to an ESJ strategy?
There’s a whole universe of emerging movements, solutions and paradigm shifts to come, and if climate justice isn’t already on your agenda, then it should be. Because in the 2020s, unknown ideas become strategic priorities faster than ever.