After the frightening and then inspiring Al Gore presentation last week it felt like the world had changed. Or should change.

And it is, it seems.

Just look at what Qantas is saying. If there’s one big influential corporate in Australia that should know about consumer tastes and preference it’s this national Australian airline.

According to its group head, environment and carbon strategy Megan Flynn, who was speaking in a business session straight after Gore, the company has 12 million frequent flyers on its books that it can tap for any number of nuanced insights.

The trend and evidence in Australia and overseas was clear, Flynn said. “You heard from Mr Gore this morning and you’ll hear it from everyone on this panel.”

“Sustainability is a magnet for customers, a magnet for talent and magnet for investment. And it is a huge growth opportunity for business and that’s where we all need to be focused.”

To underscore the shifting trends Qantas also taps 10 year of behavioural data from carbon offsets and a new benchmark study into business and consumer preferences in sustainability.

The role for business is clear, Flynn told the audience. “Consumers across the spectrum of demographics expects us to engage to understand and to lead in sustainability.

“And with the incredible sources we have we know that the demand for sustainable goods and services is not coming from people who traditionally identify themselves as environmentalists. The most rapidly growing demand comes from people who do not identify themselves as environmentally.

“And I personally find that very powerful.”

Even more interesting is that the motivation to act for this growing army coming to our side is not driven by demographics but by attitudes.

“So when we talk to consumers about sustainability we should do so in a way that delivers on their attitudes not their demographic.”

Behind these words lurk all sorts of challenging notions that go to the heart of preconceptions about behaviour. It’s pegging the possibility of change to values instead of how much you earn and where you live. And when you decouple values from those assumptions well… anything can happen and watch out our political leaders. It means that finally we are exposing the false ideological divide that has sought to put those who want a clean environment and to save the planet on one side of the political fence and those who don’t care on another side.

With 12 million customers we’re backing Qantas to know what it’s talking about.

Flynn is clear: “The economics of the 21st Century will be driven by the demand for sustainable goods and services.”

Huge opportunity?

You bet.

Huge challenge? Maybe, but not as big as we thought.

So who’s on side?

Poor old feds, let’s not go there. They’re still listening to the scraggly bunch of deniers lying around at the wrong end of the bell curve.

Sustainability Victoria is another party to the evidence of change.

It recently revealed the results of a survey of more than 3000 people using methodologies that it says will accurately indicate fairly attitudes across the entire nation.

The results beat anything we’ve seen before (well we haven’t seen the fine data from Qantas). The survey says:

  • 91 per cent of respondents know that climate change is happening and that human activity is contributing to it
  • Only 4 per cent say there is no such thing as climate change

Even more impressive and completely backing Flynn’s assertions are these numbers:

  • Three-quarters of Victorians are interested in purchasing 100 per cent green power for their home
  • Three-quarters are interested in generating their own power and feeding excess back into the system
  • Seven in 10 are interested in solar battery storage systems.

So the values are there and so are the wallets.

That’s a powerful combination indeed.

What’s interesting about this strong consumer sentiment swinging around to climate action is at what point do we start to question all the underlying premises that got us here in the first place?

And by saying this we definitely do not mean to be disrespectful. Especially to people and companies who pretty much like most people we see and know think they are or have been doing the right thing.

Yes we are “all on a journey” and for so many of us any clean green behaviour is something learned metaphorically last week.

Few heeded the call when the alerts first went out.

So respectfully, we need to start quietly but purposefully questioning all sorts of assumptions and if we do it in the right spirit and replace what we give up with something better, well it might also be relatively painless.

At what point do we challenge the kinds of business we do or better still how much of that business we do? Do we start to budget things we previously took for granted?

Such as travel.

Flynn was asked by a questioner at the event about what the airline was doing to cut emissions given its core business was flying around the planet emitting greenhouse gases.

It’s tough, she responded. With huge effort it might be possible to reduce emissions by maybe two per cent. Making it more difficult is that only 30 per cent of its emissions were in Australia and 70 per cent offshore There was work underway to lighten the design of aircraft and so on. But in the end she said this was particularly difficult because this is a growth industry.

Can we start to expect a flights budget? So that those of us who feel we need to fly can stop feeling guilty as long as stick to our budget?

Maybe Qantas and similar businesses can retain their profitability and even grow it without growth in the actual transactions.

What about tourism?

There’s a notion among wealthy people that they can expect to travel frequently. More as they get older.

In Barcelona the locals are fighting tourism because it’s driving them out of their homes, literally. Here are 1.6 million permanent residents (within the city limits) and 32 million visitors a year, so you get their point.

The same questions might be asked about how OK it is to go to poor countries, absorb the spectacle of poverty (brazenly touted as “poverty porn” in some circles) or quaint habits, and then go home to our middle class idylls.

Is tourism actually a thing? Is it an honourable economic activity that supports and develops the population or is it like an addiction so that when the fashion shifts to another part of the world the locals fall into a dive?

What Ecocity did and what an avalanche of brave corporates and governments are doing is unplugging the genie in the bottle. Let’s help them.

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  1. There is a fundamental message here for all citizens of the planet. Travel for travel’s sake undermines culture and society. Travel to learn, contribute and return home to make a positive difference is arguably another matter. Generous, courteous travellers can bring shared pleasure and wisdom to the global village, whilst arrogant consumption takes from the whole, like any other exploitative culture.QANTAS and every other global organisation must move into a circular economy, and away from the flawed anti eco-economy that pervades governance and policy environs.