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Idealog—in the ideas business

What the sustainability movement can learn from Apple

While this video shows Apple's not so impressive carbon emissions record, this article from the Guardian newspaper tells a different Apple story, explaining how Apple may in fact be getting it right in the sustainability realm. And they're doing that by presenting sustainability as something cool, sexy and desirable—not lecturing about it.

"Thinner, lighter, faster" - Apple explains why you should buy an iPad2. Notice it doesn't say, "Because it's fabulously profitable for us." Profitability is its agenda. There's no reason to suppose that Jo Public shares that, so Apple doesn't talk about it. Instead, it focuses on what Jo Public does care about. The tactic evidently works: Apple sold more than a million iPad2s in the first weekend. 

How do we get that kind of uptake for sustainable lifestyles? 

By marketing. If we're trying to get people to buy more sustainable products and services, or to buy less, or to change their lifestyles, or to travel differently, or to get our employees to change what they do at work, then we're trying to change their behaviour. That is, we're marketing. So let's do precisely what successful marketers do. Talk about what "customers" care about, and be willing to shut up – perhaps completely – about what we ourselves care about. Like Apple does. 

Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But peculiarly, that often goes out of the window when people start work on green issues or sustainability or low-carbon products. They start going on about green or sustainability or low-carbon. They focus on their agenda – "look how very green we are" – rather than on the customer's. Thus they don't get beyond the niche greenies. 

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That's a very good point, and I'd extend it to saying we need to make sustainability mainstream and something everyone does. Looking at Apple, there's a reason damn near everyone has an iPhone these days and it's not the phone itself. Compared to the high end Android and Windows phones the iPhone is more expensive, has less features and the hardware is no better - there are many Android/Android phones that are considerably more powerful than the 4S and even the 5. So why do so many people pay more for an iPhone that isn't any better than an Android? They do it because everyone else does it.

It's the same reason Kiwis prefer rugby to football whereas most Brazilians have probably never even watched a rugby match - it's what everyone else does. When we can make sustainable behaviour normative then we can start expecting to see come change.

I discussed this further in a post on my blog here:…

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