Brands, Leadership and the Climate Crisis

Guest post from Sean Pillot de Chenecey:

Innovation, on which any organisation is so reliant, is about to become more dynamic and challenging than ever.

Whilst hyper-relevance, ultra-personalisation, collaboration, ethics and sustainability are the crucial foundations of success; those tasked with creating that innovation are now faced with the challenge of the environmental crisis. This meaning that society and business alike are confronted with an existential dilemma.

It’s one that has, in the
majority of cases, effectively been ignored. That dilemma has in fact become a
‘climate and biodiversity emergency’.
Indeed, and as we heard at the
World Economic Forum, the risks that the environmental-crisis poses to business
have moved from ‘potentially problematic’ to ‘potentially catastrophic’.
Major action is needed, with
businesses in every industry, including the ever-widening area of innovation, having
crucial roles to play.
So, the catalytic times we
live in have profound implications for businesses and organisations of all
varieties. Indeed,
the Governor of the Bank of England, memorably
declared a few months ago that “firms ignoring the climate crisis will go
In the context of my new
book, Influencers & Revolutionaries, the issues concerned have been
epitomised by Greta Thunberg’s call for systematic change in her speeches at
the UN, and via the global protests organised by the Extinction Rebellion
movement. XR use 
nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.
Meanwhile, despite the warning
of an array of respected public figures, backed up with solid scientific
evidence, it’s been staggering to observe
many in
the mainstream media, and the upper echelons of “yesterday’s businesses” still
attempt to dismiss XR. However, it was interesting to see The FT, an early
mover in understanding the movement, noting that “the word ‘extinction’ in their
title isn’t just referring to plants, insects and animals. It means us.” *
Green 2019
From a business-futures
perspective, and standing at odds with “yesterday’s organisations and
yesterday’s leaders” it’s fascinating to observe how modern management theory
has shifted away from the one apparently set in stone by the economist Milton
Friedman, for whom the responsibility of business was purely to increase its
We now see leading
businesses around the world having a very different overall ‘accountable
capitalism’ stance, with the ‘purpose of business’ being viewed as one that has
improving society as a central aim. That is a hugely important shift, and these
modernised principles reflect a very different business world than that
inhabited by Mr Friedman. 
This is where, for instance,
the building of trust by brand’s evidencing their ongoing actions, are of such
importance. (They relate to what I termed ‘reputation capital’ in my first book
‘The Post-Truth Business’
regarding whether a brand is ‘trustworthy,
reliable and competent’).
In the context of the climate
crisis, the issue of why we should trust ‘the organisation behind the brand’
regarding their environmental credentials, is vital. For companies that are
seen, by their behaviour, to be meeting the challenges set by the climate
emergency in an effective manner; then on purely consumer-engagement and brand
differentiation levels, this will enable them to achieve greater business
Which is where ‘real purpose’
as opposed to often vague notions of ‘brand purpose’ are highlighted by those
like Extinction Rebellion.
A well-known industry
saying has it that the most successful companies achieve their ongoing success
by preparing for change, rather than simply attempting to adapt to that change
when it appears. And movements like Extinction Rebellion have clearly acted as the
‘canary in the coalmine’ in an array of critical contexts.
The responses must be a
transformation of the way in which businesses are led, strategies are
developed, products are created, and of the overall approaches to be taken as
we move towards a circular and more ethical economy.
In each case, creative
thinking and collaborative approaches help to illuminate the way forward, and
will help to ensure that, as the saying goes, ‘good business is good business’.
Pillot de Chenecey

has over 20 years’ experience as a brand expert, combining marketing
consultancy with ethnographic activity and trend research around the world. His
new book is INFLUENCERS & REVOLUTIONARIES: How Innovative Trailblazers,
Trends & Catalysts Are Transforming Business.For more information, please