Mass Action for Social Change

Mass Action for Social Change

Engaged citizens, joined by an increasing number of Gen Z teens, are taking to social media and the streets to demand action from governments and businesses  to proffer viable solution to pressing social and environmental challenges. Around the world a small but growing number of citizens are rising up to challenge institutions, companies and governments to deliver a more equitable and sustainable society. They are increasingly using social media and other digital technologies to spread the message, elevate important issues and mobilise people.

Savvy companies in response to these demands are tapping into shifting consumer values and empowering people to act on important issues like climate change.

“A majority of global consumers are concerned about climate change but only a handful of these feel empowered to take action in their own lives. Global companies, like IKEA, have an important role to play in inspiring and supporting more people to take action.” Pia Heidenmark Cook, Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA Group.

Civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion –  a UK-born action group that calls for mass economic disruption using non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to prevent catastrophic climate change – has now spread to more than 35 countries around the world.

Americans took to the streets in 2018. Millions protested against gun violencegender inequity and the separation of children from their migrant and asylum-seeking parents.

One in five Americans have protested in the streets or participated in political rallies over the last two years. Of those, 19 percent said they had never before joined a protest march or a political gathering.

In one of the biggest movements for women’s rights in India, 5 million women lined up across the length of the southern state of Kerala to demand an end to outdated social norms that prevent women of childbearing age from entering places of worship.

In France, thousands of working class protestors known as the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have taken to the streets to protest the newly-introduced green tax on diesel – highlighting the need for a more just energy transition – and call for an increase in the minimum wage.

Employees at multinational firms are increasingly making their voices heard, with Amazon employees protesting the sale of facial recognition software to law enforcement and unsafe work practices.

Meanwhile over a thousand Google employees signed letters protesting the company’s involvement with AI military development for the Pentagon, as well as its decision to aid China’s online censorship.

“Empowering Action at Home”: A study of 30,000 people in 35 countries found that 62 percent of customers want companies to take a stand on issues such as sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices.”

Gen Z Coming of Age

Born at the turn of the century, Gen Z are already entering the workforce and will overtake millennials to become the largest generation of consumers by 2020. While many are still too young to vote, Gen Z are already important influencers, engaging companies and governments on a range of social and environmental issues.

Youth turned out in force for COP24, the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland and sent a record-breaking message calling for global leaders to meet the 1.5C target in the form of 125,000 postcards laid out on Aletsch glacier in Switzerland.

In Australia, thousands of children from more than 20 cities left their classrooms to protest the Australian government’s inaction on climate change as part of the Strike 4 Climate Action, inspired by 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg.

The student-led March for Our Lives saw more than a million Americans take to the streets advocating for stronger gun regulation.

As school shootings continue across the US, American high school students are putting pressure on investors such as Vanguard and BlackRock to drop gun manufacturers from their investment portfolios.

A recent study found that 68 percent of young people aged 14-18 in the UK have participated in volunteering or other forms of social action.

A nine year old girl contacted Warriors basket baller Steph Curry on Twitter to ask why his Under Armour shoes were only available for boys and Curry and Under Armour remedied the matter in less than 24 hours.

People increasingly want companies to take meaningful action on environmental and social issues. Leading companies are finding ways to enable people to make easier, sustainable, cost-effective changes to their lives.

study of 30,000 people in 35 countries found that 62 percent of customers want companies to take a stand on issues such as sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices.

Research by IKEA and GlobeScan found that a majority of consumers want to reduce their carbon emissions, but many are unwilling to choose less convenient or more expensive options.

Companies including Patagonia and IKEA are embedding sustainable innovation into their business models with the goal of empowering citizens to lead more sustainable lives.

Unilever subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s is utilising blockchain to empower customers to carbon offset every individual scoop of ice cream.

Global office-sharing company WeWork has gone meat-free at it’s 502 locations – with meat no longer served at staff events and WeWork employees not able to expense meat meals – in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.

What to Expect in 2019

Citizen-led activism will keep the pressure on governments and companies to address pressing social and environmental issues. Expectations for companies to address issues such as climate change, single use plastics and gender equity will also continue to grow. Customers, especially youth, will increasingly shift their loyalties to companies they perceive to be delivering social and environmental value to society.

What this Means for Business 

  • Deliver value to society

In 2019, companies need to reassess the environmental and social impact of their core products and services and shift their business models towards generating long term value for society if they are to keep up with shifting consumer expectations.

  • Increase transparency

In order to build trust and loyalty in 2019, companies will need to embrace more radical forms of transparency. Blockchain and social media will be essential tools.

  • Empower consumers

Leading companies should invest in building brand power by enabling consumers to make sustainable lifestyle changes that are both convenient and cost-competitive.


  1. SustainAbility’s (2019) What’s Next for Sustainable Business –

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