The Volvo Effect

I liked Volvos when I was a young, which was about as uncool as it was possible to get in a world of testosterone fuelled desire for Maseratis, Ferarris and E-Types. There was something about its uncompromising approach to safety above design or performance. You got the impression that it could get hit by a meteorite, and all it might need was a respray. I never had one then, although I did recently – a Volvo S90, about the size of a small apartment, and a wonderful car. I really liked it, but then came over all ecological. When they go electric, I’ll most likely go back.

This though, is not about cars rather than about unfashionable priorities, and a commitment to an ideal. Volvo’s principles were clear and they did not compromise them in order to attract more customers. They set out their stall, and accepted that there were those who didn’t like them. Then, as they learned, they started making cars more people wanted, They combined aesthetic and performance appeal with the bedrock of their safety values, and have become a major brand sat alongside Mercedes and BMW on equal, and I think superior terms going forward. It is I suspect easier to add performance to safety in people’s minds than it is to add safety to performance.

Let’s move along to Climate Change, Equality, Employee health and Covid 19. There are I think many parallels. There are companies out there who have been taking these issues seriously for a while, not because they are fashionable but because it’s part of who they are. People like Patagonia, Xero, Riverside Organic and many smaller, local companies not in thrall to an obsolete “shareholder value” ethic.

It is clear that Covid19 is only the start of the material impact of the change we’re in. Covid itself is here to stay, and whilst we will mitigate it’s impact it is a reminder that the planet has its own way of mitigating the damage we cause. We cannot afford to go back to thoughtless mass travel, particularly when we know there are good technology based alternatives. We cannot afford thoughtless consumption and inequality if we are to leave an ecosystem for our children to appreciate and enjoy.

This opens up whole new horizons for enterprises to marry genuine values to new offerings, from currencies (Seeds rather than Bitcoin) to businesses to politics. We will not get there in one go – like anything organic they do not present themselves fully grown, but evolve as they grow. They rarely end up how we think we will when we set out, but importantly, like Volvo, they carry the essential DNA of their values into whatever they become.

I think the same is true of us. We are not the children or the servants of the organisations we work for. We have a choice. Not immediately maybe – the ties of mortgages, debt, and a consumer lifestyle are powerful, but they are still choices. We need to get our heads round that. Several generations of industrial culture are deeply embedded.

Covid19 has shown us how we can adapt when we need to. It would a shame to stop now, when we are already moving. Healthy people on a healthy planet is not a tag line, it’s a necessity.

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