What followed was a swathe of corporate announcements and a race for the most competitive packaging recyclability claims and recycled content targets. In the wake of this came Government commitments, including the 25 Year Environmental Plan and, more recently, the Resources and Waste Strategy.

The Netflix and WWF series, Our Planet, launched last Friday and like Blue Planet presented by David Attenborough, has chosen to show the stark truth about the environmental crisis we are facing. It’s a bitter pill to swallow – to the extent that Netflix has now released the timecodes of the most distressing scenes so that viewers can avoid them if they choose.

While the series itself is hard-hitting, setting out the extent of the detrimental impact that humans have on the natural world, the Our Planet website also points people towards potential solutions and is full of interactive content to explore.

The producers have been careful not to paint a picture that’s too bleak, or that makes people feel hopeless, as this often simply leads to inaction. The website features some of the most innovative technological solutions to the world’s biggest environmental challenges, and viewers are also given clear actions they can take to make a difference, clustered around five steps:

  • Make your diet as plant-based as possible
  • Shop for sustainable fish and meat
  • Switch to a clean energy provider
  • Choose deforestation-free palm oil products
  • Buy wood and paper products from well-managed forests

It is too early tell whether the programme’s messages will result in the same call to action from the public as Blue Planet II, but the message to business should be clear.

Consumers drive change through pressure applied via purchasing power – and if this programme isn’t the catalyst for that pressure, something else will be. Businesses need to show that they are listening and taking action now rather than waiting for a push from their consumers or stakeholders. Businesses that fail to do this will simply be failing to deliver the products that consumers want.

This consumer power is working on the issue of plastics; both business and the Government are starting to deliver solutions via the Resources and Waste Strategy and through voluntary multi-stakeholder groups such as WRAP. Business now needs to build on this momentum and apply the same approach to all areas of their environmental impact.

Many businesses have been asking themselves ‘what is the next plastic?’; that is,‘what is next big environmental topic on the horizon?’ But the answer to this isn’t one issue or topic, although things like sustainable fashion have already captured public attention. Plastics were a wake-up call, a visible problem with a clear solution that everyone could act on. Now we are awake we are starting to see the impact of our activity in everything we buy, from fashion and food, to energy and transport. This presents a significant opportunity for the businesses that can help us consume sustainably;  those that focus on this now, rather than waiting for sales to drop or supply chains to dwindle, will have the competitive advantage over the rest.

To discuss any of the issues raised in this post, please contact Chloe McIvor