In the UK, when we need to be looking ahead, much of 2014 will be spent gazing at the misery of the tragedy that was the First World War. Yet the biggest battle for this country lies ahead, in the next century. It’s far more important that we think of the future for our children’s grand-children a century hence. Of course, that’s far more uncertain as it means making sacrifices today in the lifestyles we’ve built on the backs of globalisation.
It’s the human dilemma. If we don’t keep growing our economies, our societies will break up and chaos will ensue. If we do keep growing at the rate we are, the planet we call our home will make life unliveable for human beings. How can we own less, share more, become frugal? From Patagonia to Zopa and Compare And Share to The Food Swap Network, small and growing businesses are connecting with consumers to leave the politicians behind and show the way.
We’re all getting older. You might have been thinking about retirement, now you’re thinking about your next career. But, where are the businesses helping us to move from a culture that regards old age as inherently undesirable? Independent Age provides help and advice services to people keen to make the most of their lives post-retirement, while also helping them plan for any changes or challenges they might face in the future.
An increasing trend is the existence of four generations of families, including young adults who cannot find houses and vulnerable elderly who need 24-hour care in their own homes. When Forster recently partnered with United for All Ages and The Times to hold a series of debates on intergenerational issues, one of the biggest concerns to emerge was the need to incubate more interdependent living between generations. Great opportunities for collaborations between organisations of all kinds exist here.
As a society, we are happy to let businesses market at our children, so that they know more about branding by the time they’re five than we knew by 25. Is it a national disgrace that 80 per cent of our children are disconnected from nature? It ought to be. New parents work hard to pay expensive nursery fees that enable them to work hard and isn’t it time we found a new way of breaking a circle that traps us in unsuccessful lifestyles? Business opportunities around the idea of returning childhood to children (we used to call it ‘play’) are starting to appear. It seems to start with charities and their clear social purpose. The National Trust and the RSPB work together through the Wild Network. If it means ‘branding nature’, as Project Wild Thing is doing, then so be it. As well we know, today’s children understand branding. But the best people at branding are businesses.
What is the point of work? Finding the purpose seems harder and harder, yet here lies a wonderful chance for companies of all kinds to re-engage their employees and win-win. A business doesn’t have to be as colourful as Dulux to do this, although it helps. The company’s Let’s Colour initiative sees volunteers from its workforce use donated Dulux paint to improve run-down public spaces. It has donated more than 500k litres of paint through the scheme, which have been used in projects ranging from brightening up favelas in Brazil to more than 300 community projects in the UK. Does this help to project Dulux as a socially valuable brand? Yes. Does it help to foster deeper engagement with customers and staff? Most certainly.
Now that the 21st century has finally properly begun, it will be businesses that lead the way towards a sustainable future. Most of our biggest challenges are by-products of progress. Now, after 300 years of unstinted industrial and economic progress, there is no bigger challenge than ensuring the sustainability of the place we all call home. Again, it may be Third Sector institutions like Forum for the Future who lead the way with ‘net positive’ culture. But it can and will only work with businesses of all shapes and sizes leading the way and getting on with it. These are the change-making businesses that need support to ensure they develop and become successful in terms of profit and beyond.
Peter Gilheany is Director of SME PR agency Forster Communications
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