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Can celebrity be used to drive a circular economy?

9th Nov, 2022

I’ll admit that like many people, I have my guilty pleasures. One of them is watching reality TV. The top of my list? The Kardashians. But I’m not looking to talk about my excitement at Season 2 of The Kardashians on Hulu, I’m here to start a discussion: how can the Kardashians be used as a power for positive environmental change?

Before you laugh — let me make the case. The power of the Kardashian brand has been undeniable for over a decade. It’s even been adopted in an academic study (to the following critique) which resulted in the invention of a Kardashian Index to measure how much weight should be given to a scientists expertise publicly educating via social media.

The application of the Kardashian lens to monitor social change doesn’t stop there. In 2015 and 2021, Brunel University ran a Kimposium! — three whole days dedicated to rigorous academic discussions studying how the Kardashians have influenced, and driven, some of the most pressing social and cultural issues of our time. I hear your sighs through my screen but consider that this family owns their brand. End to end the business decisions they’ve made, for better or worse, influence millions globally each day.

How green are the Kardashians?

What does any of this have to do with tackling our Climate Crisis? We need change now and the Kardashians can strongly influence and drive this.

What’s their latest change? Sustainability. Seriously. Everyday they promote their products via Instagram, influencing consumers to join them on the journey. Khloe Kardashian’s Good American brand has already achieved a coveted B Corp certification. This shows that her brand makes planet and people equal to profit, recognising the brand’s reimagining some of the traditional worst offenders — jeans and sportswear.

This can make an impact in a climate emergency. The fashion industry alone consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined, contributing to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. First movers to B Corp like Good American and Chloé are essential to drive the changes we need to see across the industry.

B Corp certification is a rigorous certification process, where a company’s performance is assessed against five key categories: governance, workers, customers, community, and the environment. So this isn’t just lip service, it’s sustainable fashion. While Khloe’s company is the first to achieve B Corp status, it’s clearly having a knock on effect to another market the K’s dominate, Cosmetics.

The impact of cosmetics

The cosmetics industry is a market in need of transformation. 70% of the cosmetics industry’s waste comes from packaging and it generates 120 billion units every year.  Creating sustainable packaging solutions at source is critical to reducing its environmental impact. SKKN by Kim recently launched in visibly sustainable packaging, with each product being housed inside refillable bottles and jars using recycled materials and compostable kraft bags. But visible doesn’t always equal usable, with many already calling into question the sustainability of the packaging itself. Consumers need to constantly ask for better, especially from celebrities where revenue, reach and rapport is a dead cert.

But we know that lasting change is a team game, and while consumer preferences, certification and corporate leaderships are necessary, they’re sadly not always sufficient. Not all brands will strive to embed sustainability as part of their business model.

Even when they do on paper, words are just words unless this translates in practice. Just last month fast fashion brand boohoo recruited a Kardashian, Kourtney, as their sustainability ambassador, without any real commitment to anything more than supporting the conversation. ‘Greenwashing’ has become a trend which, without intervention, leaves consumers thinking they’re doing the right thing without the brand really committing to change. We as consumers need to drive the demand ourselves. We also need to hold these brand leaders themselves to account. It’s our every day behaviours that will make the real impact. Stating the obvious – there’s little point in heading to a business meeting to chat about reducing the carbon impact of your supply chain if you hop to it on your private jet.

Where does real change come from?

So, what can be done? At Gemserv we believe a truly circular economy can only be reached with successful implementation and adoption of regulation. Key among these is the Extended Producer responsibility scheme – which put the costs of disposing of waste on the producer of it, embedding the producer pays principle. At the moment, this only exists on packaging, batteries and electrical goods but the discussion has evolved to textiles and clothes too. Change is only possible if consumer demand is there for truly sustainable products, not performative PR.

Why does all this matter? While regulation might ultimately be needed, the Kardashians have shown that there isn’t a compromise between sustainability and business. Consumers want socially responsible, environmentally sustainable products. We also know that real, lasting reductions on carbon impact of products is driven by demand. Demand is driven by consumers. And consumers…well I bet every last one has heard of Kim K.