The spread of green during the last decade or so has been big. No doubting that. Sustainability has gone from buzz to megatrend. The fact that it brings such tremendous benefits to companies, governments, households and ecosystems draws new converts every day.
But we have a problem here. For all the progress made, it is nowhere near fast enough. The challenge is monumental. Emissions from developed and developing countries alike have not even slowed their rate of growth, as fossil-based new development outstrips green advances designed to halt emission growth by the end of this decade and provoke an 80% nosedive by 2050, the timeline put forth by the UN IPCC and 98% of the world's climate scientists.
So it is quickly becoming part of the global consensus on climate change and the green economy that sustainability-as-usual will just not do. The movement needs a turbo charge, a huge hyper boost. One would certainly be next-generation renewable-energy sources. Another: long-range electric cars that require less of a charging-station infrastructure. And resource-saving materials that can be scaled globally in no time. All these innovations and more are in the works. It's what's fueling the green economy and turning it into a grand growth hope for the future.
But today, they're not crossing the urgency threshold and likely won't for a while. There is, however, one innovation we can implement rather quickly and at a very low cost relative to the incalculable gain. It is a social innovation aimed at consumers and small and mid-size businesses. Turn those two segments on to green at a global and massive scale -- and I mean massive! -- and the resulting acceleration just might get the job done.
It is a behavior-change challenge of unprecedented proportions. Never in history have so many had to change their behavior so widely and so rapidly. This is contagion acceleration. How to achieve it? In many ways, but three in particular seem fastest and most effective.
1. Person-to-person influence. With today's digital marketing and communication tools, particularly social media, ideas spread like wildfire. Green ideas do so all the time. The meteoric rise of 350.org is but one shining, recent example. Needed now is a deeper, more systematic approach that taps not just greenies, but general-market consumers at a far broader level. And one that achieves a far bigger spillover into society at large, especially those who don't use social media or the internet at all.
2. Neighborhood-level, grassroots contagion. Sustainable communities and districts are all the rage in many parts of the world, and they provide major lessons that if converted to a global strategy for neighborhood-scale contagion, would become truly game-changing. It is people and companies feeding off each other where they live and work, and creating linkages in how buildings and systems are designed and used (waste recycling, water use, steam sharing, car sharing, etc.). All led by green leaders at the grassroots level.
3. Product marketing and substitution. One sure way for people and small companies to convert and embed new green habits is simply by buying the right products and services -- substituting the stuff they use today with similar products that are both outright green (fluorescent bulbs, bikes, biodegradable everything) and lifecycle-green (produced following a cradle-to-cradle process, regardless of the product). Studies show that roughly 70% of consumers choose green and are even willing to pay a bit more when they know something is green. That takes shopper marketing and consumer education in the buying process. Same goes for small businesses in their purchasing. Such product substitution is happening now, but far too slowly.
Again, the pace of organic contagion today won't do the trick. The still-rising emissions, despite all that has been done, is a clear signal. A bigger, faster social tipping point is begging. For that, we must turn to consumers and small businesses by deploying contagion solutions such as these at a massive, global scale. There is simply no other way.