A world of a thousand movements

So, which movement will YOUR business launch today?

From Medium, 7 May 2016

It has become the most mission-critical question in sustainability communications, given the very latest climate science. Call it Movement Communications, a powerful emerging discipline enabled by the shifts in marketing and public relations I explained two weeks ago in this LinkedIn post.

Most sustainability communications huddles around two tiers. Tier 1 is communicating what the brand is and does — your programs, values, governance and metrics — by way of websites, CSR reports, events, campaigns, publicity and the like.

Tier 2 is where you engage in analysis and storytelling, not of the brand itself, but of the issues and stakeholders connected to your sustainability. This makes for more compelling engagement and inspiring content that carries your voice far more deeply than Tier 1, a crucial objective in this age of strong digital winds.

But the latest scientific discoveries from a Columbia University-led research team, peer reviewed only last month and confirmed to be the world’s new brutal climate math, has rendered these two levels woefully insufficient and has opened up an entirely new space for brand leadership, reputation enhancement and robust sales.

To be sure, movements aren’t new. Lots of brands have launched and sustained notable ones over the years. NGOs, as well, many with highly active corporate sponsors. Cause marketing is replete with inspiring success stories.

But this is different. The scale is magnitudes greater. As is the urgency. We just learned that there is far less time to solve this than even scientists thought we had.

The new science is screaming at us — hollering at us! — to step up our game and realize that given how abysmally short the Paris climate accord fell to solving the problem, sustainability-as-usual — tiers 1 & 2 — only dooms us to massive and permanent societal and economic collapse.

…unless companies of all types and sizes fill the void with a tsunami of planet-saving movements. And that, my friends, is our new agenda.


The prevailing assumption, to which we’ve all subscribed, says that catastrophic climate change and ecosystem depletion won’t happen until we surpass a 2℃ aggregate temperature rise above the historical average — 1.5℃ was declared safer in the Paris agreement.

Temperatures have already risen 1℃, and what the Columbia team revealed, led by superscientist Jim Hansen, is that certain catastrophic changes are already underway — at 1℃! — most ominously an intolerable frequency of Sandys and Katrinas and a rise in sea levels near certain to permanently flood and put out of business such centers of commerce as New York City, London and Shanghai before the end of the century.

In the last several months, temperatures have shattered records, every month smashing the previous one. More records are widely expected going forward.

A new era of Climate Disruption is upon us, where two degrees is no longer the limit.

Is it 1.5℃? And how much time do we have? No one knows for certain. What we do know is that the carbon already in the atmosphere will keep temperatures rising dangerously for the next 10–30 years even if we were to halt all new emissions cold turkey right this moment, which of course we won’t. Emissions are projected to rise, though less voluminously, for several more decades, pushing the time lag and raising temperatures further.

The impossibility of being pin-point precise in these predictions means we have no choice but to play the probabilities, and the probabilities tell us we have zero time to waste.

Since we have already locked in severe, business-hurting, society-altering impacts at just 1℃, and can’t possibly avoid significant further warming, the time to act is NOW.


As marketers and communicators — at least those of us in this to actually make a difference! — this must be our starting point when sitting with our bosses and clients and recommending what their new approach ought to be.

And it is this: not only are Tier 3 movements the only hope of keeping the world safe for prosperity, ecosystems and humanity; they are the best way for brands to amplify their voices and for sustainable brands to mainstream their solutions in today’s crowded, noisy digital planet.

The momentum for purpose-driven communications has been building for some time and is now at an inflection point.

Books such as this one and articles like this one have become commonplace on business reading lists. Two Edelman veterans recently left the world’s top PR firm to launch movement-focused practices of their own: Carol Cone and Robert Phillips. NGO Sustainable Brands is dedicating its big annual event this year to purpose.

The data showing that purpose drives results is beyond refute. It motivates your employees into top performance, engages your customers in greater share-of-wallet relationships, enhances reputation and license to operate, and more.

Now must come the next wave. The inflection must be hyperdriven by movements with greater ambition. Movements with hunger, with an edge. But above all else, movements that are connected, not run in isolation — a wondrous global chain of social change. Truly a world of a thousand movements.

How can it work at your company? Let’s break it down.

First, you need three fundamental ingredients: zealot leaders who believe passionately in the urgency and see the tremendous opportunity at hand; deep authenticity in how you live your values and practice sustainability across the company; and the capacity to scale as your movement mainstreams your brand and catapults your sales.

Second, execution, which consists of two integrated components. First, the creation of amazing and immersive content experiences. Not just content, notice, but content EXPERIENCES.

It’s the substance and inspiration that fuels a movement, the powerful stories that go deep, lift souls and trigger raving engagement by people — stories told across text, images, video, film, audio, events, shows and multiple subformats, online and offline.

Every metric indicates that people crave content this meaningful and journalism-quality and share it deep into their inner circles, both digital and physical. And inner-circle penetration has been found to be THE key in spreading messages and provoking the word of mouth and peer pressure that best creates social change. The fact it’s part of a movement with a high purpose sparks greater passion and inspiration, and therefore greater sharing and contagion.

But content alone does not make a movement. The second execution component is mobilization toward actions defined by the company and community, which in the world of ecosystems and climate change tend to focus on changes in behavior in favor of sustainable choices in business and life, this time at rates of urgency never before seen.

And again: that’s the defining difference between this world of a thousand movements and previous mobilizations for purpose-driven change. It’s what Marin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of now.”

To mobilize at this level, you must deploy the latest digital technologies in innovative ways to amplify the content, engage stakeholders, generate media coverage, attract inbound traffic of new clients and change agents in your geographies, activate everyone in an integrated platform, and transform behavior.

That’s why movements are not to be confused with campaigns. The latter are temporary. They expire at a certain date and are replaced with new ones. A movement is designed to be constant, to endure, to mature and build over time. Movements don’t come with expiration dates. They are by definition open-ended, since the “end” depends on when the objective is achieved.


To connect the movements, we will need certain players to step up. If you’re a company, in addition to your own movement, you can lead by persuading companies in other industries to do the same. If you’re an agency, you can make it your business to pitch movements to various companies across industries. Likewise if you’re a media company. The business model is clear and compelling.

Agencies and media companies that lead have a unique opportunity to turbocharge the entire effort, because of, a) the raw creative power of the content they can create, and b) their mastery of content-marketing strategies to spread the magic far and wide, at Tier 3 scale.

But also because agencies and media companies can deploy their business models to SELL movement-driven, content-experience products to clients that would otherwise not do this on their own.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine if one particularly influential media company or agency, and why not more, stepped up and pitched THIS to a strategically targeted group of clients covering industries with high carbon and ecosystem sensitivity in markets around the world — energy, forestry, transportation, manufacturing, logistics, retail, fishing, tourism, and others.

Not only would the firm generate vast revenues from those sales, but they would be going way beyond their own individual reach and impact, by sparking the launch of interlocking, coordinated movements.

And if they AND their clients spread the fever to the countless small and midsize businesses in their massive supply chains, the inflection point would turn absolutely exponential, and perhaps even be on time to avert the worst of climate change and ecosystem depletion.

We’re in a mad search, that is, for MOVEMENT INNOVATORS, leaders who get the new vision of where the planet is headed and SEE possibilities for the world and for their companies that others don’t.

And isn’t that, in the end, the difference innovators always make. So, let’s see. Who will step up?

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