Eco-Anxiety: Are Brands Listening?

The first red flag: a colleague quit her corporate job as she felt the world around her was dying. The trees being cut near her home in Gurgaon filled her with anxiety.

The second red flag: another friend told me that the burning of Amazon forests made her cry. She imagined the cries of the animals who were dying. The raging fires in Australia, which have left more than half a billion native animals dead, makes her feel panicked.

The third red flag: a couple, when talking of having a child, declared that bringing a child into this world would be morally wrong. “It’s unfair on the child to be brought into a world that is toxic, and is every day becoming even more so,” they reasoned.

In all my conversations with all these individuals, what I kept hearing were terms and phrases like ‘hopelessness’, ‘things will only get worse’ and ‘the last generation’. They didn’t feel something is wrong in a distant, vague manner, but in a very palpable, real sense. Their sense of wellbeing was tied to a larger eco-system, the planet.

Also read: ‘There is No Earth B’: School Students Protest Climate Change in Delhi

As I spoke to more individuals, I realised that this colleague, this friend and this couple are not alone in feeling this way. They are a part of a global tribe, which is still niche, but growing, in India.

Many words have been used to describe how these individuals feel – from ‘eco-anxiety’ to ‘eco-depression’, ‘eco-grief’ and ‘climate anxiety’. Such anxiety is expected to become even more widespread and has mental practitioners worried enough that the American Psychological Association has created a 69-page climate-change guide to help better deal with the impending crisis.

This tribe and their anxiety has found expression in many movements internationally. The Extinction Rebellion, the mass non-violent civil disobedience movement, started in the UK to compel the government to take action, is built on this anxiety. Greta Thunberg, Time magazine’s youngest person of the year, took channelled her anxiety into anger. Her Fridays for Future have actioned millions of school children around 150 countries to demand governments getting moving on combatting climate change.

This tribe, angry and anxious about the environment, are questioning many things. They are rethinking about how they live when it comes to the values and the identifiers of a ‘good life’.

More so, this tribe is revisiting expectations from businesses.

The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019’, conducted with millennials from 42 countries and Gen Zs from 10 countries, including India, speaks of this change in expectation. The survey found that, at 29%, climate change/protecting the environment/natural disasters is the single most important worry – seven whole points more than the next-highest concern.

In fact, 27% millennials believe that businesses should try to improve and protect the environment to the best of their abilities; with 42% ready to start/deepen their relationship with a business if it has products/ services that positively impact the environment/ society.

This recognition of how millennials feel has led to a rise of initiatives like the B Corporation movement, which makes companies legally bound to put employees, communities and environment prosperity alongside financial targets. The movement has around 10,000 certified B Corps, including the likes of Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, Kickstarter, Danone and Natura.

Also read: Misogyny, Male Rage and the Words Men Use to Describe Greta Thunberg

India has had only five B Corps since 2016 – Vaya, Sage Sustainability, INDIVILLAGE, Caspian and ekutir. The B Corps movement believes that with time, on the basis such a certification, these companies will attract new customers, employees and socially conscious investors.

The anxious, worried tribe, will instinctively know that it’s better to deal with these companies. This means of corporate communication being employed here gives a kind of a global legitimacy that individual efforts by a company may not be able to convey. This type certification undoubtedly has its own limitations and pitfalls, but is arguably a step towards corporate environmental consciousness.

Being a B Corp certified company is by no means the only way a business can signal their commitment to the environment. A few niche brands have emerged in India too that are just doing that without any certification.

No Nasties, an organic, free-trade and vegan clothing line; Arata Zero Chemicals, a plant-derived brand that offers chemical-free body-care products and Heyday sanitary napkins, a women’s hygiene brand that swaps plastic for biodegradable solutions – are a few examples. Even bigger businesses see merit in moving forward in this fashion, with HUL stating that it saved 450 billion litres of water through its initiatives, in an ad that stayed with me.

To say that this just a trend, or that it will be many years before this tribe actually matters to marketers in India, is to be in denial. The Indian millennial is not far behind. The same Deloitte Survey states that 57% millennials and 77% of Gen Z in India aspire to make a positive impact in the community and society at large; climate change is one of their top concerns, and in comparison to their global counterparts, they are convinced that businesses are best able to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

Indian millennials are stating their expectations. It is for brands to respond to it now. What one cannot do is assume that this ecological crisis and the implication of it on consumers will not effectively change what consumers expect/demand from brands.

Unfortunately, this change is as real as the ecological crisis we are currently in. The anxiety that many feel today is what brands should also feel and act on in order to be on the right side of the change that is coming.

Ritika Goswami is an experienced marketing professional, who works across brands and categories.

Featured image credit: Unsplash