The importance of voices, experience and accountability

This piece was co-written by the wherefrom co-founders, Adam Williams and David Cook, addressing how consumer perception and public opinion are more relevant than ever in sustainability.

We all (or at least most of us) live in a democracy. That is to say we have a collective influence over how we shape and govern our lives.

However, in practice we don’t have a vote on every single detail of how to govern the country; imagine taking part in 10 national referendums daily to decide on everything from what day the bins go out, to what the framework should be for setting interest rates. Most of us certainly aren’t qualified to have expert insights on these complex and nuanced issues.

Instead, in most systems, we vote for members of parliament (“experts”) who are elected to run the country with a deeper experience and understanding of how to do so (which let’s be honest, isn’t always the case!). This, in theory, makes the system more efficient and allows the electorate to get on with their lives without pouring over the minutiae of running the country by leaving it to the people who know how.

“How can we be sure the politicians are capable enough?” we hear you scream. Well it’s simple: Accountability. Reporting on results. Not failing promises. Solving problems.

Public opinions are important to steer and correct the course of action and experts are needed to understand and implement it. An accountability layer is needed as an insurance policy.

But what does this have to do with sustainability?

The same for democracy is true of building a sustainability strategy. Those who are immersed in sustainable practices and mindful production, such as policy makers, consultants and internal teams, should (and do) make a lot of core decisions across the board for brands. However, to completely outsource this responsibility to these individuals is to give us consumers no say whatsoever. It would be a totalitarian state of sustainability.

Of course you can ‘vote with your wallet’, but that’s simply not enough when the future of our planet is at stake.

That’s why it’s important to mould and build sustainability strategies in tandem with the consumers (and the global population) they affect. Brands might align their sustainability strategies with what they consider to be important to their consumers. This process helps create a framework called “materiality assessments”, which can then inform their final future strategies. As such, it’s important for brands to access reliable consumer opinions to make their materiality assessments based on real and bespoke data.

We believe consumers and experts alike should be involved in shaping and feeding back on key areas of strategy and innovation. Only then can we ensure everyone’s needs are met.