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Responsible consumption - the soft power of the story

Transcriber: Chiyoko TadaReviewer: Eriko TsukamotoLet me start by asking you a question.Imagine you decided to buy a new T-shirtso you drive to your favorite sh...

Apr 24,2020 | Elaine

Responsible consumption - the soft power of the story

Transcriber: Chiyoko TadaReviewer: Eriko TsukamotoLet me start by asking you a question.Imagine you decided to buy a new T-shirtso you drive to your favorite shop,you look at the choice they offer,and you narrow it down to two T-shirtsthat you find more or less equally cool.You hold them in your hands,and you know that one of themcomes from a companythat is known for very decentworking conditions in the production.No child labor, fair wages.You know it doesn't includetoxic chemicals for the coloring,and it's made with organic cotton.The T-shirt in the other hand,as you rememberfrom the media, a week before,comes from a brand quite notoriousfor so-called "sweat shop"working conditions.So, maybe child labor,certainly, no fair wages,full of toxic chemicals, and not organic.As I told you, you like themmore or less the same.Who of you would, in that situation,pick the more responsible T-shirt?Please raise your hand.OK.That's a majority.Now think about the last timeyou bought a T-shirt.Did you take into considerationthe social and environmental aspectsof your decision?Did you think aboutthe social and environmental performanceof the brands behind the T-shirt?Or the last time you boughta computer, or a smartphone?Did you check forthe human rights conditionsin the production of these products?Probably not.What you have here isthe so-called "intention-behavior gap."

We have all the best intentions,but when it comesto the real decision making,we forget about it,or we have many reasonswhy in that moment we cannot do it.What drives that gap?So why does it exist?Why do we so often failto do what we intend to dowhen it comes to sustainability?You might thinkit has to do with information.So if we just would knowabout all these things,then we would make better decisions,more informed, more responsibledecisions as consumers.Think about April 2013,when this garment factorycollapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.You have seen these pictures on the news.You might even recallsome of the brand names.Brands being produced there.You might even have boughtthese brands before or afterwards.One year earlier,you certainly heard of the storyabout the workers at Foxconn,the factory producingsmartphones and computers,jumping from the roofs of the factorybecause of the desperationfor their working conditions.You all know that you might bethe last generation eating tuna fish.

You have heard all these storiesabout child labor and slave laborin chocolate, in sugar, in gold,in coltan, you name it.If you've never heardabout all these things,you've probably spentthe last 20 years on an island,like Robinson Crusoe.So information is not the problem.Information is not the problem.We are very good in shiftingthe blame somewhere elseand rationalisingour own unsustainable decisions.We shift the blame on the corporations.We say it's about production problems.So we frame itas a problem of production.We ask corporationsto change their behavior.There's some truth in that as well,but that's only part of the storybecause basically,the sustainability problemsthat we face todayare problems of our way of life.We want more stuff,at an ever higher speedand an ever lower price.

So we are part of the problem.It's not just about improvingthe current production conditions,it's also about changingthe culture of consumption.So it's not about information.What is it that explains this gapbetween intentions and behavior?Most of the time, when we makedecisions as consumers,we do so in an automatic way,we cruise on auto-pilot.We act without thinking.It's just routine decisions.It's deeply embedded,taken-for-granted habitsthat drive our behavior.Just think about the last timeyou tried not to check emailson your smartphone.You probably failed.Habits can be stronger than reason.So if you want to makeconsumption more sustainable,we have to reprogram habits.You must imagine a habit like an iceberg.What you can see on the surfaceis the behavior.What you cannot see under the waterare the values and beliefsthat drive that behavior.

So if you want to change someone's habit,which is not easy,you can eitherdirectly target the behavior,let's assume we would tryto get rid of the habit of smoking,so we can we make it illegalto smoke in public places.You directly target the behavior.Or you can target the valuesand beliefs under the waterthat drive the behaviorin the first place,which is much more difficult,but which creates much profounder changes.How do we normally speakto these values and beliefs?We speak to these values and beliefsin our society through stories.Stories shape, and reinforce,and break habits.Just think abouthow children love fairy-tales,how we transport valuesand beliefs through fairy-tales.Think about how the oldancient Greek and Roman societieswere guided by strong mythologies,highly complex stories that guidedthe behavior of people in everyday life.If you want to stop smoking,for instance, to go back to that story,you can either make it illegalin public places,or you can reprogramthe beliefs and valuesthat drive that behavior.

The tobacco industry is very goodin creating these stories.For teenagers, they createa story of coolness,and risk, and adulthood.That's exactly what teenagers want.So they will smokeas long as they believe it's cool,and it's promoting their growing up.For women, they used the storyof emancipation and sexiness.For poor people in Africa,they used the storyof the European prosperity,"You can reach it a little bitif you start smoking."So if you want to change a habit,you have to find storiesthat are stronger and more powerfulthan the stories that drivethe behavior in the first place.The problemof the sustainability movementis that it has no stories to tell,no stories that are powerful enoughto break the power of the storythat drives our consumptionin the first place.What is that story about?This is basically the storyof the 20th century consumer society.It is a story that grew over decadesand became stronger and stronger.It starts with the positiveoutlook on the future.We believe in a bright future.We believe that technology leads us there.

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We put a man on the Moon.Technology will makeour production system ever more efficient,so we can produce more stuffat higher speed and lower costs.We buy that stuff because by buyingstuff we become someone,we belong somewhere,we increase our happiness.So the story that drives our behavioris the story that makes a linkbetween technological progress,economic efficiency, growth,consumption, and happiness.And you feel the happinessin the immediate gratification,when you boughtthe T-shirt, for instance.In recent years,this story has receiveda bit of competition.There's another story going around,and this is basically the storyabout the side effects of the first story.We learn that when we consume more,we can increase our happinessonly to a certain degree,then it falls down.It's a U-shape; a negativeU-shape, a curve.negative U shape, a curve.

We smoke, we get cancer.We eat, we get diabetes.We buy stuff all the time,we feel empty and get depressed.On the level of society we learnall these consumption decisions aggregatein large scale environmental problems.The forest disappears,the ice is melting,and in a few decades,probably Manhattan will be under water.There will be more migration,more poverty, more wars, less water.This is actuallythe post-vision of the future.It's an apocalyptic future.It's a future that is dystopian.It's a story aboutthe collapse of the planet.So you have these two stories,the utopian story about your happiness,and the dystopian storyabout the end of the world.Next time you go in a shopand buy a T-shirt,you will hear two voices in your ear.One voice will tell you,"why don't you buy both?"(Laughter)"You double your happiness."(Laughter)

But you might start to doubtabout the evidence of that.So there's the other story,"Do you really need a T-shirt?"OK, if you need it, buythe organic one. the fair one....and did you come by bus?(Laughter)Did you switch off the lightwhen you left your house?If you did all these things,you might save the planet.Saving the planetby switching off the light?Two days ago,I was walking through London,and there was a printing shop,which obviously usedsome advanced green technologybecause in their window,they invited me to savethe planet with them.I didn't know that this planet will besaved by a printing shop in London.And what I assume isthat these kind of storiesare just an insultto our minds, to our intelligence.We don't believe them.We don't believethis strange causal linkbetween our little decisionsand the apocalyptic future.So these stories are not credible.They don't speak to our minds.If they come in the negative form,we are doomed, the planet is lost.They don't speak to our emotions,because they appeal to fear,they give us no hope.But fear only drives behaviorwhen the threat is immediate.Manhattan will be under waterwhen I will be dead,and you as well.So this doesn't drive my behavior.

This story is not strong enoughto break the powerof the immediate happinessthat I can get when I buy both T-shirts.We need different stories.We need stories that include ourselves.There are stories about our happinessconnected to the well-being of the planet,stories of our future,in which we are the actorswho make the decisionsand feel the change.This might be a bit abstractso let me tell you a storyabout such a story.I don't know how you would feelif you hear that in your neighbourhooda new fast food restaurant is opening up.You might not even care,but this is a story about someonewho got really really angrywhen he heard that MacDonald'swas opening a new restaurantat the Spanish Steps in Rome;the Spanish Steps in Rome, at the heartof the cultural heritage of Italy -fast food, the oppositionof what Italians are so proud of,their food.

This guy was Carlo Pertini,and he channeled his angerby creating the slow food movement.The slow food movementbasically, is a movementthat fights against this broad nexusof industrialized,mechanical food productionand mindless, unhealthyfood consumption,from the Monsantos to the MacDonald's.This movement was createdby Carlo Petrinibecause he believesthat we have to change the way we eat.We have to eatlocal food, healthy food.We have to produce locally.We have to protect our biodiversity,our cultural heritage.We have to recreate the link that is lostbetween the producer and the consumer.

We have to educate consumersand producers to change their habits.This story that startedas a little Italian episodehas become a huge global movement,with more than 100,000 actorsin more than 150 countries.Why is this story so powerful?This story is so powerfulbecause we all can connect to it.You have concernsabout the health of your children,you can connect to it.You hate the growing influenceof multinationals on the way we eat,you can connect to it.You are a promoter of local traditions,you can connect to it.You want to preserve biodiversity,you can connect to it.You want to help poor farmerssomewhere in Latin Americaat the end of the supply chainsof our production system,you can connect to that story.We all can somehow connect to that storythrough our own beliefsand values in that very moment.

What startedas a very small Italian episodehas turned into a trans-cultural movement,because it is a storythat speaks to everyone, potentially.So, the next time you speakwith your childrenabout sustainability, ask yourself,"What kind of story will I tell them?"And keep in mindit has to be a story about yourself,and your children, and your future.When you are a manager, ask yourself,"How do I talk about sustainabilitywith my clients?"You probably in the past talked aboutthe greatness of your engagement,your wonderful products.These are small storiesthat will not change the worldYou need a great storyto which many people can connect,in many industriesand in many circumstances.When you are a teacher, ask yourself,"How can I inspire my students?"As a journalist, your readers.As a politician, your citizens.Yes, we need more technologyand better technologyto improve the state of the world,but what we have underestimated so faris this amazing soft powerof storytelling.We're telling the wrong stories,and we have to change that.Thank you.(Applause)

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