Why Brands Should Seek To Prioritise Degrowth As We Rebuild the Economy
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
In our immediate setting, across Europe, stores have begun to slowly reopen. For our immediate future, this is good news. It has placed us on a trajectory to moving our lives forward. Despite the obstacles this includes, it is reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
During global standstill and lockdown, we were presented with an opportunity for reflection. Essays and market research reports across LinkedIn have explored the future of work, consumerism and the economy. Fundamentally, how can we best rebuild our economy?
The word rebuild being the most crucial here. We should remain cautious at the ideology of growing our economy, or at least be clear by what we mean by ‘growth’. If we assume growth to be GDP, that would be a terrible mistake. To continue to grow our economy by the performance indicator of monetary value would be ignoring the two immediate crises of our time; climate change and coronavirus. For each crisis, we have lessons. First, we cannot maintain consumption habits that assume we have unlimited resources. Secondly, without the collective health of our society, there is no economy. Therefore, our marketplaces and ways of living must yield to environmental and human values. It is immediate that we align profits with the wellbeing of the planet and humanity.
In order to achieve this, we can turn to degrowth economics. To pursue this school of economic thought would be placing us on a path whereby we reduce consumption and production globally, and work towards measuring genuine economic progress by how we cater to wellbeing, sustainability and happiness. In short - degrowth is to nurture a society and economy that facilitates humanity and the planet to flourish and to be sustained.
So what does this mean for brands and businesses in practice? How can brands work towards rebuilding their growth?
Prioritise long term planning:
In order to create a future where we are thriving and flourishing, we must imagine what life looks like there. How do we want our world to look like 50-100 years from now? Whilst we have been forced to prioritise short term planning due to a global pandemic, we must also keep one eye on the long term. In order to rebuild our economy, it is imperative to place your brand purpose and strategy against this backdrop of at least half a century or longer. How do we imagine our society and life in 2050 and how does your brand help us get to that vision?
For instance, how does your business ensure the reduction in waste. With the surge of online shopping due to lockdown measures, how do brands ensure they cater to environmental credibility when delivering products and provide recyclable and reusable packaging.
Sustainable underwear brand, Alexander Clementine who makes products from seaweed sends packaging order details on recycled paper embedded with lavender seeds so consumers can plant it.
This gives an otherwise wasteful consumer touchpoint an opportunity to be protective of the environment. Whilst this is a short term strategy, if more brands embrace these tactics, it would help us shift towards a better and more environmentally safer future.
Instead of encouraging consumers to buy more, or buy less, we can inspire consumers to buy ‘pre-loved’. Over the last year or two, ‘reuse, repair and recycle’ has gained momentum. Brands have become to encourage circular economy principles by encouraging consumers to rebuy or reuse products. One notable partnership is Selfridge’s collaboration with luxury resale store Vestiaire collective. Just after typing ‘Gucci’ into Selfridge’s search bar online, a preloved item from Vestiaire appeared as part of the search, offering consumers the chance to buy a second-hand item. Vestiaire collective is also a win/win for the consumer who profits from selling their pre-loved items.
This strategy changes the dynamic between consumers and retailers and fosters a two way, mutually beneficial relationship. Consumers become the new ‘fashion buyers’ for brands and yet also maintain status as customers. We have the opportunity to move beyond our former roles as just customers, and participate in building an anti-consumerist future with degrowth at its centre.. If we achieve progress towards this goal, we will better manage resources of existing products and pull the plug off the treadmill of constantly producing ‘new’.
Embrace human values and devise holistic metrics for brand success:
In order to achieve a degrowth society, we must build business models that place human beings and their wellbeing at their centre. We must now be asking questions as to how a business protects employees, consumers and wider society. These questions have only been accelerated due to lockdown and coronavirus. During the initial outbreak, male grooming brand Hims announced a mental health offering including online therapy, anonymous group support. The soon to launch concept will offer consumers the opportunity to connect with a license therapist and is now waitlisted, illustrating the demand for additional mental health support from brands.
However, this demand has been a long time coming, and brands should be asking questions as to how they can genuinely enrich the mental wellbeing of their consumers, in a way that is meaningful and relevant to their brand mission. However, these questions are also important for employees, who are the engine to driving businesses forward. How a brand cares for its people will be key. This thinking lends itself to moving on to KPIs and metrics for success. As fore-mentioned, moving towards a degrowth economy would mean replacing GDP with goals for prioritising wellbeing and ecological health. For instance, can the new KPI’s be a WPI (wellness progress indicator) or an EPI (Environmental progress indicator)?
As brands begin to move forwards towards creating a new normal and seek to rebuild the economy, we must redefine what we attribute to be growth and the strategies to help us get there.