Riding the Sustainability Wave

Riding the Sustainability Wave: The Bandwagon Effect in Action

In recent years, the concept of sustainability has surged in popularity, becoming a buzzword across industries. From fashion to food production, companies are eager to showcase their commitment to sustainable practices. However, the rapid adoption of this term raises questions about authenticity and the potential for superficial adoption. This blog post delves into the bandwagon effect in sustainability and highlights examples from the media while also shedding light on the difference between genuine sustainability efforts and mere marketing ploys.

What is the Bandwagon Effect?

The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon where individuals adopt certain behaviors, styles, or attitudes simply because others are doing so, often leading to a collective momentum. As more people come to believe in something, others also “hop on the bandwagon” regardless of the underlying evidence.

This effect is driven by a desire for social acceptance, the fear of missing out (FoMO), and the assumption that the popularity of an idea implies its correctness. This effect is not limited to consumer choices but extends to various aspects of societal behavior, including political views, health practices, and, notably, sustainability efforts.

As more companies and associations publicly commit to sustainable practices, others feel compelled to follow suit, fearing they will be left behind in the eyes of consumers and investors. This can lead to a proliferation of sustainability claims, some of which may be superficial or aimed primarily at capitalizing on the trend rather than making genuine environmental contributions.

The bandwagon effect works through a self-reinforcing mechanism, and can spread quickly and on a large-scale through a positive feedback loop, whereby the more who are affected by it, the more likely other people are to be affected by it too.

We have written extensively on the concept of greenwashing so I will not go into this specific aspect in this post.

Identifying Bandwagon Jumpers

It can be challenging to differentiate between genuine sustainability efforts and superficial attempts to capitalize on the trend. Here are some typical signs of organizations jumping on the sustainability bandwagon:

  1. Lack of Transparency: Organizations that provide vague or insufficient information about their sustainability practices are likely engaging in superficial efforts. Genuine sustainability involves detailed reporting on impacts and setting measurable, achievable goals.
  2. Minimal Changes: If a company’s sustainability initiatives are limited to a small fraction of their operations or largely window-dressing, their efforts might be more about appearances than actual commitment. Look for comprehensive strategies that encompass the entire supply chain and business operations.
  3. Buzzwords Over Substance: The frequent use of terms like “eco-friendly” or “green” without concrete actions to back them up can be a red flag. Authentic sustainability efforts involve commitment, action, and measurable outcomes.
  4. Short-term Focus: Initiatives that provide immediate marketing benefits but lack long-term goals and strategies may indicate bandwagon behavior. Genuine sustainability requires a long-term commitment and ongoing changes to minimize impact.
  5. Inconsistent Practices: Organizations that claim to lead in sustainability but neglect significant areas or start their efforts years later than others are likely jumping on the bandwagon. Consistency across all business aspects is crucial for true sustainability.

So how do we recognize with an organization has ‘jumped on the sustainability bandwagon’?

 

Consistency across all aspects of the business is crucial for true sustainability. To do this requires an understanding and assessment of impacts across all parts of the organization and taking proactive steps to address any impacts.

So what do genuine sustainability leader do? The won’t gas light you.

To truly embrace sustainability, organization must go beyond buzzwords and marketing slogans and take real action. Genuine sustainability involves transparent reporting, long-term commitment and demonstrated actions, not just slogans and rhetoric. Take us for example!

GPM Texts and Standards

We produce a standard every few years and update our handbook regularly. Our 2018 version has stood the test of time and will be revised in Q4 of 2024. However, that isn’t enough. Leadership isn’t just about talking the talk. We are also Scope 2 Net Zero certified and are close to achieving Scope 3 certification. We disclose our emissions transparently. Additionally, we have been actively engaged members of the UN Global Compact since 2013, playing a significant role in important initiatives such as the Business for Peace initiative, where we are a founding signatory, and the 10th Principle for Anti-Corruption. We attend COP sessions on biodiversity and collaborate with like-minded organizations on specific sustainability initiatives outlined in our standards. We were a party to the Paris Accord and RIO+20, further emphasizing our commitment to global sustainability efforts.

At GPM. we adhere to a strict code of ethics and have publicly disclosed policies including a Supplier Code of Conduct, Human Rights Policy, Anti-Trafficking Policy, Fair Competition Policy, Respectful Workplace Policy, Workplace Violence Policy, Impairment Workplace Policy, Anti-Corruption and Human Slavery Policy, Privacy Policy, Commitment to Responsible AI, and Digital Sustainability policies.

This comprehensive framework ensures that when we write about these topics, we speak from a place of expertise and commitment. Our goal is for our stakeholders, certification holders, and partners to have confidence that the domain expert is pushing the envelope, advancing causes, so that when we provide cutting-edge content they can put their trust in knowing the intent and heart behind it.

Sustainability leaders walk the walk and truly understand the impacts their organization has on the environment and society. The have initiatives to progressively eliminate any impacts. They make transparent, measurable and achievable commitments to achieving net zero carbon emissions in Scopes 1, 2 and 3. They provide clear, honest information about the environmental and social impact of operations and the steps taken to mitigate it. They implement policies and practices that promote holistic sustainable practices that can be felt horizontally and vertically in the organization involving volunteers, employees, customers, and communities, partners, and suppliers in sustainability efforts to ensure a holistic approach that benefits all parties.

The surge in sustainability initiatives is a positive sign that businesses are responding to consumer demands for more responsible practices. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between genuine efforts and superficial bandwagon jumpers. As stakeholders, customers and as a society at large, we must remain vigilant and hold companies accountable for their sustainability promises, ensuring that the bandwagon effect leads to meaningful, lasting change rather than superficial adoption. Buyer beware of the gas lighters.  Their lamp might appear bright but it won’t light your path. Actions speak louder than words.

Michael Young

Michael is the GPM Vice President for Membership and Research. As a program and portfolio management consultant, he specializes in sustainability, working with C-level executives around the world to reduce risk, save money and improve their reputation. Over the past 20 years, he has lead the development of national and international standards in project, program, and portfolio management standards for ISO, IPMA, AIPM and PMI. He has authored over 50 articles, papers, book chapters and edited books and my work has been featured in Business Review Weekly, Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. Michael has also been recognized as a winner of the Australian Business Awards in innovation, sustainability and project management, the Telstra Business Awards, Project Management Achievement Awards and the awards.

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