Now More Than Ever, Positive Impact is the Future for Business.


Trump has ditched the Paris climate agreement. Enlightened brands will see a massive opportunity to step up and win the future.

NASA — the Amazon rainforest seen from space.

So Trump has ditched the Paris climate agreement. He cited his duty to the ‘citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris’. Sounds as though some among the good people of Pittsburgh are not too happy about that namecheck.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Trump is only doing what he said he’d do. Of course the commentary now will be endless — and so it should be.

But I couldn’t hear the announcement yesterday without coming back to one of my obsessions over the last few months. That is, the unshakeable feeling that we’re living through some strange days right now. In particular, how right now could end up being a defining time for a lot of us; including any brand, business, startup or NGO. That’s because this is a hugely volatile time for brands (remember #deleteUber!), but also one rich with opportunity.

The Trump announcement on Paris is a case in point. A host of business leaders have come out against the decision, including Elon Musk (pretty expected), Disney CEO Bob Iger, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. We’ve even been treated to the strange spectacle of ExxonMobil urging a US President to get more serious about reducing carbon emissions. Strange days indeed.

So why are these businesses doing this? Because on some level they have absorbed a core truth about the future of business. And that’s this: the future of business is positive impact.

What’s more, Trump’s decision offers them a uniquely powerful opportunity to step up. That is, to align themselves with this truth and show the world — including their customers — where their values are.

In today’s environment of democratized innovation and industry-reshaping insurgents, every brand is looking for the secret code that will enable it to stick around, to mean something to anyone, in the years ahead.

This truth might be as close as it gets.

Why the future of business is positive impact

Sure, there are millions of consumers around the world who simply want more, faster, cheaper, bigger, tastier, shinier. But the truth is that long-term direction of travel is on the side of brands that have a positive impact on the planet, society and individuals — and make sure consumers know it.


Rising numbers of consumers are trapped in a toxic guilt-spiral when it comes to the negative impacts of their consumption has on the planet. Crucially, that spiral is being fueled by rising transparency, which makes it ever-harder for consumers to remain ignorant of those impacts.

Now, those consumers are looking to brands to make meaningful changes to assuage their guilt. One glimpse of that? In a 2016 global survey by Havas, 53% of consumers said that they actively avoid consuming from companies that have a negative environmental or social impact. And that jumped to 66% among specially-identified leading-edge consumers who tend to adopt behaviours before the mainstream.

But there’s a second big driver of the truth that is positive impact. That is insurgent startups. A new generation of startups are coming to the problem of negative impacts with a clean slate. Unlike their legacy counterparts, they are able to have great environmental, social and ethical values baked in from the start. Buy one give one shoe brand TOMS is a great example. Juno, the ethical ride-sharing startup in NYC, is another. Tesla counts, too.

These startups are rewiring the expectations of consumers when it comes to the impact that consumption should have — and the way it should make you feel about your choices. Big, legacy brands will increasingly feel the force of those expectations in the years ahead. Many of them know they need to take action if they’re going to get anywhere near meeting them.

So where does that leave us?

Despite Trump’s decision on the Paris agreement, the powerful truth that is positive impact isn’t going away. Rising transparency (half of humans already use a smartphone and the other half are coming!) will make consumers even more informed when it comes to the processes, values and impacts of every brand they engage with. Insurgent brands that are cleaner and more ethical — and better at communicating all that — will put legacy brands under even greater pressure.

The leadership at Disney, Goldman Sachs, and yes even ExxonMobil understand this. They know that trust in our shared institutions — especially government — is at an all-time low. I have no doubt that those leaders are sincere in their feeling that speaking out against the Trump decision is the right thing to do. But they also know that today is a uniquely powerful opportunity for them to step up and fill a void. To regain some trust. To place their brand on meaningful and lasting ground, by aligning it with the long-term business truth that is positive impact.

Those kinds of opportunities to build brand meaning are rare. They need to be grabbed with both hands.

Time to step up

Positive impact is just one of five big truths about the future of business that can leverage in these strange days. But right now, it feels like it might be the most important of them all.

So challenge yourself today — whether you’re a CEO, startup founder, brand strategist, product developer, whatever: what is our strategy here? If you’re a startup founder: how can we supercharge our insurgency by offering a cleaner or more ethical alternative that will be irresistible to consumers because it ends the guilt spiral? If you’re a leader at a legacy brand: how are we responding to the emerging expectation that we act on this? No one expects you to be perfect — but they want to see you moving in the right direction. If you’re straight out of college: how can you start a ground-up movement inside your organization that will eventually win the attention of the boardroom?

Are we aligned with the truth that is positive impact? Can we afford not to be?

And you already know the answer to that last question. For your organization, and for all of us.

David Mattin is Global Head of Trends & Insights at TrendWatching. If you enjoyed this please click the heart so your friends can see it too!

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