Brands Telling Parents What to Buy – For a Better World. Or Should it be Vis a Versa?

Our Climate Mama, Harriet Shugarman recently attended the Brands and Sustainability Forum in New York City. The event was co-sponsored by Forum for the Future and Guardian Sustainable Business. The evening was a unique and intimate opportunity for bloggers, brand representatives and advertising professionals to mix, mingle, listen and interact with a fascinating panel, on issues we don’t think about or talk about often enough. Do we, as consumers really want to be more sustainable in our purchases? Who is really directing what we buy, Brands or us? Should we, and/or the companies that sell us things, be thinking more seriously and considering the longer-term health of our planet and all of us when we make purchases? Will sustainable consumption be forced upon us, or will we force sustainability on the companies creating the products we buy? What does that mean anyway!!!?

This requires a bit of hypothetical thinking on a subject that as busy parents, we may not feel we have the time or the energy to consider. Think again! As parents and consumers we need to be part of the conversation now. Our purchasing decisions and consumption patters now and in the near future impact not only our lives today but our children’s future as well. As parents we think and worry every day about issues that impact our children’s lives: the foods they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe. Are we keeping our children too busy, or not busy enough with extra curricular activities? Are we spending enough quality time and energy with them now to help them make the right choices later on, or are we just “spending too much” on them period? As parents this is a job most of us have committed to and one we take seriously.

The New York event was focused around a recent Forum for the Future report written in conjunction with Unilever (big brand company products include: Dove, Hellman’s etc) and Sainsbury (UK Home Depot and food store equivalent rolled into one!). The report explores four scenarios: “My way”, “Sell it to me”, “From me to you”, and “I’m in your hands”, as ways to bring sustainable consumer consumption to the mainstream by 2020 (just over 8 years away…and as we know all to well, 8 years goes by way, way too fast). According to the report, there are many key resources that we take for granted now (i.e. oil, food staples, fresh water!) that will become scarcer and more expensive by 2020, impacting our buying options and opportunities. As well, challenges such as accelerating climate change, loss of biodiversity, rising social inequalities and rapid population growth, all contribute to why we can’t sustain our current consumption patterns. Behind the scenes, in boardrooms of big companies, in advertising agencies and think tanks, smart people are talking and worrying about whether we, as consumers, will make decisions for ourselves, or look for companies to do it for us. The old business model of create more, to make more money, regardless of the cost to society and nature, is broken; it can’t and won’t work effectively in the near future.

Speakers at the event included Jeffrey Hollender of co-founder of Seventh Generation, Sally Uren, Deputy Chief Executive, and Forum for the Future, Freya Williams, Senior Partner and Director of Strategy, Ogilvy Earth, and Ian Yolles, Chief Sustainability Officer of Recycle Bank. Who do you think should be in the drivers seat, and should we even care?

Food for thought,


Climate Mama

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2 Responses to Brands Telling Parents What to Buy – For a Better World. Or Should it be Vis a Versa?

  1. Mary Hunt says:

    “Who is really directing what we buy, Brands or us”?

    That is the ultimate question for democracy to work and it should be the same answer for sustainability to work, right? Do citizens run Washington or does lobby money run Washington and we live with the results. Do consumers get what they ask for or do they have to live with the results that companies push on us?

    I’m curious, what did you you conclude at the end of the conference?

    • Harriet says:

      Good question and you raise an important point… I think there is too much “direction” from brands and media in what we buy, and that they are looking to the consumer to start taking the lead….

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