We can — and we must — change the odds that the climate will tip in our favor. We do this both by changing the speed at which new, more sustainable ideas spread, and by changing the rate at which those ideas turn into actions.
The most widely used model describing the spread of innovative products is called the Bass Diffusion Model, after its creator, Frank Bass. In it, adoption is driven both by innovators — those who have adopted the new product or idea, or who tell others about it — and imitators, those who hear about it, some of whom then adopt it.
For a sustainability-related example of what this looks like, here are sales figures for plant-based meat company Beyond Meat:
When we add a trendline, you can really see that we’re in the exponential-growth phase of adoption:
This is in contrast to the growth pattern of CDP disclosure, which has been very robust but much more linear:
Obviously, we need whatever positive growth we can get, but it’s critical to have more of the exponentially-growing good stuff.
Is there enough of that good stuff? Sometimes it doesn’t seem so – but maybe there’s a lot more than we see. One recent example brought this home to me.
I’m pretty engaged in the issue of plastic waste. I’ve given presentations at SB Oceans, SB New Metrics, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Disruptive Innovation Festival. I’ve led the creation of the True Plastic Impact standard (now being used by a billion-dollar consumer goods company), been part of the Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit, and penned articles about it, such as what the history of Wi-Fi can teach us about a plastic standard.
And yet, even I only found out a couple of months ago about some fantastic work being done to build collaboration in this area. And just today, I learned for the first time about one of the biggest microplastic pollution datasets.
That gives me hope that there’s a lot more out there I don’t see. While the bad stuff is big and visible, maybe there’s more of the good stuff than we think.
So how do we help the good stuff grow, once we find it?
- Examining Bass’s model suggests some specific approaches we can take to nudge those growth rates upwards. Increase the ability of adopters to tell others. We at Valutus do this with language, stories, and concepts that resonate with people who haven’t yet felt compelled to join in – for example, talking about sustainability in ways that echo with financially-oriented businesspeople. And others do the same but for different audiences, such as talking to people about their legacy and what they want to leave behind
- Grow the uptake of sustainable actions by those who hear about them. Our strategy at Valutus is to make adoption faster and easier through tools, support, and showing the connection to success (financial, competitive, and otherwise)
- Ramp up the ‘market’ for sustainability, broadening its base by showing more people that it matters to them. We accomplish this through helping people see the value of values – how much value is created when they act on their values.
- Amplify the impact of sustainable actions on the physics of the world. The goal is to help people evolve more quickly, from actions that are valuable but don’t have direct, physical impacts on the world — such as setting a science-based target (SBT) — to actions that do. For example, we try to help companies meet the targets they set by changing the business model or production techniques, or by getting others in the value chain to change theirs (by being a catalyst)
 Setting a science-based target is important. We even help companies do it! But we help them do it 95% faster than the traditional way, so they can move on quickly from setting the target to meeting it, since that is where the physical impacts are.
OK, but even so, will we make it? Will we shift the balance and do so in time?
It’s daunting. But we end up at an approach inspired by Sustainable Brands: Be courageously optimistic. We choose to be optimistic. This takes courage given the reality of the situation, but we must.
Deciding we’re going to make it is actually powerful, in an unexpected way: it engages the human capacity for creativity. Saying, “We’re going to make it. How?” makes us work backward from success, which opens up new avenues of creativity and generates better ideas.
Then we have to turn those ideas into actions. Here, optimism is a choice that helps us — and others — to act. Optimism is more energizing than anxiety — though there’s plenty of cause for that — or pessimism. It’s also more contagious, more catalytic.
It’s tempting to say we don’t know if we’ll make it, but it’s better to say we will. We have no choice. We just have to figure out how – then do it.