The seed of the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption (Akatu Institute) was planted in 2000 within the Ethos Institute for Business and Social Responsibility (Instituto Ethos), when the latter’s directors realized that genuine long-term commitment to corporate social responsibility would only come about if it was seen to influence consumer purchase decisions.
Phase 1: Getting the focus right
Research conducted by Instituto Ethos showed strong consumer interest in corporate social responsibility. However, corporate responsibility related considerations did not have a significant influence on consumption decisions. It was evident that people were largely unaware of their growing power as consumers to transform society by adopting socially conscious purchasing and consumption behaviors. It was therefore clear that the first hurdle to overcome was to “empower” consumers to use their voices to influence business attitudes and force companies into greater social responsibility.
To engage people we decided to focus initially on more familiar areas of concern for consumers, such as water, energy, and waste. This gave rise to the guide “Sou + Nós” in 2002, which demonstrates that by changing consumption habits consumers have the collective power to change the world.
Phase 2: Metrics and content (2002-2004)
While defining the next steps, we realized that before going any further we needed to gain a deeper understanding of the level of awareness of this topic with our existing audiences. To this end, in 2003, we devised the Conscious Consumer Test (CCT), a 13-item questionnaire designed to gauge the level of consumer awareness of conscious consumption.
The CCT also served as a useful educational tool since, by answering the questions, people were able to identify the behavior changes that pave the way for responsible consumption.
Phase 3: Engaging opinion makers (post 2004)
The findings of the CCT showed a clear need to develop contents capable of promoting awareness and mobilizing people to become conscious consumers. We realized we needed to develop a methodology for designing and transmitting contents. Consumers needed to understand the extent and seriousness of environmental and social problems. They needed to recognize that behavior changes can have a major influence on sustainability, feel engaged, and influence others.
The need for logical, clearly organized contents with mobilizing potential gave rise to the development of “Pedagogias Akatu”, our methodology developed over the years for changing consumption behavior, which determine how the message should be formatted and transmitted to the public. By this stage, Akatu Institute had already conducted a number of studies and developed the CCT and contents capable of mobilizing society, raising public awareness, and generating impact. Now we needed to define where and how to apply this impressive arsenal and it was concluded that the quickest and most appropriate way forward would be to gear our actions towards opinion makers who, with their influence, would naturally expand the reach of the concept and practice of conscious consumption.
Thus in 2004, Akatu Institute broadened its range of communication activities, engaging in a variety of cause marketing partnerships and promoting capacity building for conscious consumption among volunteers, teachers, and opinion makers.
Phase 4: The pursuit of high social impact initiatives (2005-2009)
A study conducted in 2006 showed that 13% of Brazil’s population had heard of Akatu Institute. In 2007, our capacity building activities reached more than 50,000 people directly and over 500,000 indirectly. Our cause-related marketing campaigns and placements featuring Akatu Institute and conscious consumption occupied the equivalent of R$33 million in donated media time and space.
Nevertheless, the process of raising awareness and promoting consumer empowerment was slow given the seriousness and urgency of the global sustainability challenge. In light of this, Akatu Institute began its pursuit of high social impact initiatives, promoting events such as exhibitions and competitions in order to reach a large number of consumers rapidly and objectively.
In 2010, we gained nationwide visibility for the conscious consumption cause when the primetime TV program Fantástico aired two reports on a campaign conducted by Lew’Lara\TBWA. The advertising agency created ads simulating the launch of a luxury residential development in the middle of some of the country’s picture-postcard public spaces, illustrating the inversion of values in modern society.
Another highlight during this phase was our partnership with the educational television channel Canal Futura and HP to produce the animated video series called “Collective Consciousness”. Comprising 10 episodes, the series is a simple and fun way of stimulating reflection on the problems generated by the ever-increasing pace of production and consumption. The videos were aired in the breaks between programs on Canal Futura and used as support material for educational activities conducted in over 1,000 educational institutions throughout the country.
Phase 5: The ten ways towards responsible production and conscious consumption (2011-2012)
After 11 years of intensive work to promote sustainable living, we realized there was a need for a concrete point of reference indicating the practical steps towards sustainable production and consumption, giving rise to the guide The Ten Commandments of Responsible Production and Conscious Consumption.
The guide was launched at the Rio+20 Earth summit held in Brazil in June 2012, together with four proposals put forward by Akatu Institute for the “Sustainable Development Dialogues”. The summit’s outcome document – The Future We Want – underscored the urgency of education for sustainable development. It was against this backdrop that the project Edukatu was born, a conscious consumption learning network for primary school teachers and students in private and state schools across Brazil, officially launched in September 2013.
Phase 6: Promoting “well-being society” with scale and momentum (from 2013)
“What is happiness to you?”. That was the question that Akatu Institute asked 800 Brazilians throughout the country at the end of 2012. The results of this survey showed that people associate happiness much more with physical and emotional well-being and social interaction than with wealth and possessions. This was one of the questions of the 2012 Akatu Survey: The Path Towards Well-being Society.
We came to the conclusion that we would like to be recognized not only for popularizing conscious consumption in Brazil, but also as an organization that works to raise awareness and mobilize people to support conscious consumption and more sustainable lifestyles, leading by example in generating and disseminating knowledge, inspiring positive change and proposing and implementing concrete solutions, whether by helping to shape and support the implementation of policy or engaging stakeholders — in civil society, business, academia, and the public sector —to achieve our goals.
In 2014, in the midst of the water crisis plaguing the country’s Southeast Region, Akatu Institute launched the campaign #águapedeágua, which encouraged people to visit a specially developed website where they could find water saving tips and share successful experiences in reducing water waste. The campaign, created by the advertising agency Taterka, reached over 120 million people. One example of visibility was a television report on the campaign aired on the primetime news program Jornal Nacional on 24 October with a total of 4.6 million viewers.
Our Conscious Consumer Test was given a facelift in 2014. With a more friendly design, the new platform was launched on Conscious Consumption Day (15th October) and allows for a more in-depth analysis of data and sharing of results on social media, as well as providing tips to encourage users to become conscious consumers, called “Dicas Akatu”.
The highlight of 2015 was the publication of our report “Paths towards Sustainable Lifestyles” in October, which identifies the main factors that influence changes in consumer behavior towards sustainable consumption. The report concluded, among other things, that change is driven by shared values and that the more united people are, the more likely they are to engage in sustainable practices.
The connection between the issue of climate change and conscious consumption was the focus of the #ClimaMuitoLoko (really mad climate) campaign promoted in 2016, which explained how adopting sustainable lifestyles can help tackle global warming. The campaign materials provided top tips on how people can change attitudes and behaviors to reduce their climate impact.