While the past few years have shown a remarkable uptick in plant-based living, this trend is sure to continue. Millennials and Generation Z are disproportionately choosing animal-free diets, a healthier path than their parents. As consumers, younger generations are typically more conscious consumers, with their personal health and that of the planet at the forefront of their minds when purchasing. The zeitgeist of the 2010s has recognized climate change as a devastating issue, helped along by the internet as a vital communication tool and media sharing platform. As more research links environmental concerns with human activities, particularly our over consumption of animal products, it becomes harder to ignore our responsibility as stewards of the planet. This recognition of the dangers of our consumption habits is not meant to stop society in its tracks, but to offer it an alternative path forward.
In the face of environmental disaster, businesses have a choice about whether they should sustain the same practices that have led humanity into this mess, or lead us on a better path into the future. Remarkable innovations by creative entrepreneurs and businesses have already endeavoured to compromise between profits and environmental stewardship. [Insert examples here of sustainable business solutions] This new practice of conscious capitalism may be a solution to our woes, but it has only scratched the surface of what humanity’s brightest minds could manifest. For decades, environmentalists and industry have been at odds with contradictory goals. If these two groups can combine their efforts, the potential could be overwhelming. Just as the animal agriculture industry is investing in plant-based foods, the energy industry could (and many do) redirect their strategy towards renewable sources like solar, wind, nuclear and hydroelectric power. Tyson, the frozen chicken manufacturing giant, has invested significant capital into Beyond Meat, the plant-based meat” startup that is shaking up the protein game. Even Bill Gates, who has personally invested in mock meat products (http://www.organicauthority.com/foodie-buzz/bill-gates-is-investing-in-a-vegan-meat-start-up.html), believes that plant substitutes are the best option for the meat industry to be able to feed a greater population than animal agriculture can support.
These sustainable business practices are not limited to merely food products and renewable energy. In fact, all consumer facing industries are ripe for re-hauling in an ever-changing world. The fashion industry, the world’s second worst polluter (http://www.senseandsustainability.net/2016/03/02/the-fashion-industry-and-its-impact-on-the-environment-and-society/), is beginning to implement more sustainable business practices. H&M implemented a clothing recycling program in 2013 to redirect textile waste from landfills, and outdoor gear manufacturer Patagonia repairs or recycles their old garments for customers to reuse through their “Common Threads” program. (H&M: http://about.hm.com/en/sustainability/get-involved/recycle-your-clothes.html or Patagonia: https://www.patagonia.com/blog/2011/09/introducing-the-common-threads-initiative/). As approximately 13 million tonnes of clothing are thrown away in the United States alone, this consideration is sorely needed. Given that the fashion and textile industry accounts for a $2.6 trillion market share, companies that recognize the importance of environmental stewardship will likely be well rewarded with consumer attention.
Environmentalism does not have to be the enemy of capitalism. With more mindful practices, proactive investment in research and development, and meaningful engagement with ethical consumers, there is an unparalleled opportunity for innovation. As millennials enter the workforce and demand better business practices, companies must adapt to face new environmental and social dynamics. Businesses that want to take advantage of this shift should recognize the multitude of products that can be improved upon to heal our environment. Those most responsible for environmental destruction could be the very ones to save it. Fashion retailers could invest in sustainable fabric alternatives like flax, bamboo or hemp, take advantage of new technologies like 3D printing and AI, initiate clothing recycling programs to redirect used garments from landfills and be more mindful of their supply chains. These smart switches are not only necessary for the health of the planet, but will allow businesses to continue meeting their bottom line while serving enlightened consumer interests. After everything, sustainability and capitalism would be unlikely bedfellows.