NEWS11 March 2020

Extinction Rebellion’s Paddy Loughman on the promise in the peril

Impact 2020 Innovations News Trends UK Youth

UK – The market research industry should position itself at the vanguard of climate change action, according to Extinction Rebellion’s Paddy Loughman.

Paddy Loughman_crop

He believes that market researchers are in a prime place to listen to consumers’ changing expectations and behaviours, forecast the trends ahead and nudge businesses into decisions that are better for them, better for consumers and better for the planet. 

Loughman, also a freelance strategy director and marketer researcher, was giving the headline speech on day two of Impact 2020. 

“It is very important for this industry to know that the climate change, climate catastrophe, climate emergency is not a story. It is a setting within which all stories take place. There’s no escaping this. If we are not talking about this and helping our clients understand what to do then we are sending them in the wrong direction.”

Waking up is hard to do – but we should be optimistic

In a wide-ranging talk he also touched on the “conservative, mainstream” science that demonstrates we are on the cusp of catastrophic climate change – but that we should be optimistic about the future. 

Waking up was hard to do, said Loughman, pointing to factors such as status quo bias, consumer fantasy, optimism bias, hyperbolic discounting, illusory truth effect and the backfire effect. 

 “I’m an optimist, an optimist for the world,” he said. “It’s a choice between two kinds of change: climate change on the one hand, and system change on the other. Choice requires courage but there is so much promise in the system change – that when we understand that we can do this it becomes an easy decision to make. 

“Extinction Rebellion is here to draw attention to denial and to help overcome it,” he said, comparing the lobby group to an “annoying” fire alarm, for which we are grateful when the fire turns out to be real.

“What comes next is the fire brigade – and we are all that fire brigade. It is up to us to pick up the fire extinguishers and rebuild the house so that it doesn’t catch fire again.”

We’re measuring the wrong things – and that’s leading to wrong assumptions

Part of the problem and denial comes from measuring the wrong things, he said. For instance, the UK makes much of its carbon emission targets and savings, but the country was outsourcing much of its production to China and India, whilst berating those same countries for increasing carbon emissions.

“We need to measure carbon consumption because if we’re not measuring all of the consumption then we make the wrong assumptions about China and India. It’s all of us or none of us. We have to drive collective action based on understanding.”

For businesses, he urged them to see systematic change and sustainability as an opportunity not a sacrifice. “There is an opportunity to become a new economy kind of business and in the process do the right thing for the crisis we are talking about. The reality is it’s about being different for your sake – and all of our sakes.”

Our impact as individuals and businesses

He pointed to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which over eight years saw topline growth and a 290% shareholder return. The global corporate has now put sustainability at the core of its strategy. 

It was not about saving the planet, he said, but of saving ourselves, our society and our sons and daughters. He advised helping consumers make better choices by not showing them “something better than the apocalypse” but “something better than next Tuesday”. To drop meat once a week, rather than going full-on vegan. 

It costs, of course, but not as much as the alternative. He cited the Drawdown Review 2020 from Project Drawdown which showed overall net operational savings would exceed net implementation costs four to five times over: an initial cost of $23.4–26.2 trillion versus $96.4–143.5 trillion saved.

“We have an impact as individuals and as businesses,” he concluded. “It takes just 20% of a sector to do something different for the whole sector to change.”