If your newsfeed, inbox and general conversation is anything like mine at the moment, then there will have been 3 conversations dominating almost every discussion.

1) The royal wedding
2) GDPR
3) Single use plastics

Congratulations Harry and Meghan – or Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they will now be known – the dress was lovely, day magical, etc., etc., etc.  

However, GDPR’s big day is still to come. And – single use plastics? Don’t even get me started.

You see, the overriding issue I have with both GDPR and the single use plastics wave of change is that it all smacks of ‘too little, too late’ – the good old ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’.

Let’s face it, data privacy has been an issue for some time.

Companies have either been neglecting it or harvesting it, without limitations, for years. Laziness, a lack of ownership or resource also means old and inaccurate data just sits stagnant, not having been updated or deleted. And because no one has made a big deal about it, company leaders have allowed it to continue without question.

And the plastics saga… well we’ve created our own monster here. Convenience, aesthetics and vanity have seen us adopt a truly disposable lifestyle. Recycling offers little consolation… most bottles and bags rarely make their way to the designated green bin. Instead they litter our roads, beaches and green spaces – polluting waterways, creating an eyesore and, worse, harming the entire ecosystem.

The pleas from the more environmentally friendly have been ignored for years. It’s a lifestyle change that’s required and one which just requires a little too much time, effort and money for most to bother.

Fortunately, the tide is turning on both fronts. The new GDPR legislation, which comes into effect at the end of this week (in case you’ve been asleep for the last 6 months and missed it!) has focussed people’s minds, not just on what data they collect and store, but why they do so in the first place.

On the other side of the comparison, proposed tax hikes on food and drink producers would mean that the cost to the end user of these single use plastic items would rise – hopefully beyond sensible and economic use.

But, as with all of these things, it requires a step change – a paradigm shift in the way we think and behave. Let’s face it, we haven’t always been data hoarders or plastic fiends. Speak to the baby boomers and they’ll tell you all about glass milk bottles and re-claiming deposits on beer and soft drink bottles. So, what changed?

Innovations and evolutions like the adoption of single use plastics or the need to hang on to copious amounts of personal data rarely comes from anything other than a need to improve – either to become more effective or to make more money… or a combination of the two.

Technology presents ways for us to do things faster, cheaper and quicker. And the quicker, cheaper and easier it is to do, the more we produce – whether that is marketing or plastic bottles. We take full advantage.

As consumers, it becomes the standard we expect. Expectations for packaging get higher as we turn our noses up at inferiorly presented products (‘I couldn’t possibly buy the bananas that aren’t in a plastic bag’ being a classic example that proves my point all too well).

When receiving emails or buying products, convenience takes precedence and we expect companies to know our fine-tuned preferences; and to address us by first name when getting in touch. This of course requires a level of data capture… and storage.

But then, the tide turns. Our privacy feels violated and we’re overwhelmed by the volume of communication we receive. That personally addressed email is simply ignored, along with the myriad of other marketing messages thrust under our noses on the same day.

And, as we’re watching our beaches disappear under a sea of plastic, as we weep as yet another bird, fish or mammal is photographed suffering thanks to that handy plastic bag, bottle or straw, in Brussels, someone decides that perhaps it’s time to address the lack of due care and attention that has been given to the Big Data situation. And that maybe we should consider banning single use plastics.

While we scratch our heads and wonder how the situation got so bad, what was once considered normal (emailing databases or grabbing a plastic straw to sip your G&T), suddenly becomes socially unacceptable. And thank goodness for that!

But the reality here is that – whether we’re talking plastic waste, data protection, using a mobile phone while driving, smoking, hunting… the list goes on – we have a habit of responding at the eleventh hour. We only take notice when the situation is in dire straits.

Now, I am not naïve enough (although one can always hope) to think that millions of years of human behaviour and evolution can be changed in a single step. However, what I do see is an opportunity for all to benefit.

As companies, we have a responsibility to our employees, our customers and the industry in which we work. The nature of our operations will inevitably have a knock-on effect somewhere in the chain – be it supply, food, or human. The step-change we require is to invest a little more of our R&D time, our CSR budgets and our marketing activities thinking about the knock-on effects of our operations and actually invest in ways to mitigate the negative effects.

This is not just common sense, but a new way of looking at CSR. We all talk about it. Most invest in it – often for good publicity and tax breaks – so is it not an opportunity?

As technology and the wave of change gives us less and less to differentiate ourselves and as the branding conundrum becomes ever more complicated – let’s look at ways in which we can set our stall for the greater good – whilst still aiming for corporate success.

We can have our cake and eat it.

If you would like to discuss how OlsenMetrix can help you with your own CSR branding initiative, please get in touch.