What Organisations Can Learn From Blue Planet
Blue Planet. It was the series that stunned and shocked the nation. The series that mainstreamed the issue of plastic pollution. The series that called on us to act.
And it worked.
As Sir David Attenborough himself has stated, the public response to the series has been ‘astonishing’.
In the months following the series, global leaders have pledged to reduce plastic, organisations have swapped out packaging and straws for recyclable variants, and a plastic free mark has been introduced.
The Blue Planet Effect?
Personally, I can’t recall a more effective method of creating genuine behavioural/attitudinal change. Almost overnight, the public began to deeply care about the issue of plastic pollution, to the point where they would happily adapt their lifestyle accordingly.
That’s an incredibly powerful effect, and one that organisations should aim to understand, harness, and replicate.
Creating Social Impact
As I spoke about in my John Lewis article, certain things must happen for organisations to create social impact.
- Customers must care about certain issues.
- Organisations must use their resources to tackle those issues.
After all, if organisations invest in issues nobody cares about, then they won’t gain any competitive advantage as a result. That means, being realistic, that they will probably struggle to maintain that investment over time, limiting their impact.
Likewise, if customers care about issues but organisations don’t invest, then naturally it’s unlikely for social impact to happen at the necessary scale.
When the two come together however, that’s when change happens.
Reversing The Order
Generally speaking, CSR is based on popularism.
Effectively, organisations will put time and effort into tackling issues that customers care about. This way, society is better off, and the company also profits. Everybody wins.
Generally speaking, there is little wrong with this approach. I’ve spoken many times about that fact that CSR should benefit the company as much as society. We need to create a system where the more responsible businesses make the most money, so making profit from social impact is perfectly fine.
However, it’s a tad more complex than that.
If organisations only ever react to the views of the majority, surely the scope for social impact is limited?
What happens to the social and environmental issues that people don’t know about or care about as much? Are they less important? Of course not.
This is where CSR is changing.
Instead of reacting to consumer popularism, companies must take the lead. If they cleverly invest in certain issues and communicate them effectively, they can actually make customers start to care about them. Sure, it’s harder than cashing in on existing public views, but it has far greater potential for genuine change.
Realistically, this is exactly what Blue Planet has done.
BBC didn’t make Blue Planet to cash in on the fact that people are worried about ocean plastic. They made it to make people realise how big of an issue it is.
And, because they did it so well, the effect was incredibly positive.
For organisations, they need to create their own Blue Planet effect. They need to be brave and focus on problems that might not be mainstream public issues just yet. Then, through effective communication, they can actually begin to change consumer attitudes.
Personally, I think the future of successful CSR will be characterised by this transition. The firms that simply react to already mainstream issues will soon lose out to the companies breaking new ground. The companies that care so strongly about social impact that they’re willing to raise awareness, not capitalise on the awareness that already exists.
It may seem like a subtle difference, and a very tough job, but as Blue Planet showed, the desired outcomes are very much achievable when communicated effectively.
Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.