Sandvik's Call to Inaction: Asking Customers to 'Do Nothing' for the Climate

Meditating for Mother Earth

We're facing unprecedented climate change and it's stressing us out. Every day we're told to do "more of this," "less of that" and "get started yesterday." The abundance of calls to action can trigger a freeze response. When you don't know what to act on, the easiest thing to do is nothing.

That is why when Sandvik, a key supplier in the global mining business, wanted to increase participation in its Carbide Recycling Program, Swedish agency Stendahls, where I work as a copywriter, took a disruptive approach by tapping into the power of doing nothing.

The program was launched in 2013 in a bid to save important minerals from depletion. But despite the urgency, only one in three customers signed up. To meet the company's ambitious sustainability goal of 90 percent circularity by 2025, a drastic increase in participation was needed. But giving the already hardworking mining community more "shoulds" and "musts" felt like adding to the problem, rather than facilitating a solution.

Stendahls decided to flip the decision process. Recycling was included as part of all sales, and customers who didn't want to participate had to opt out. As a result, the campaign became a giant call to inaction.

The initiative was launched in an hour-long, guided-meditation film, complete with mesmerizing visuals and a soothing voiceover, offering the mining community a moment to relax while learning about how their tools would be recycled. The video was shot in Sandvik's recycling plant in Austria and narrated by a guided meditation pro.

The overarching business goal was to increase participation. We managed to do that with a simple tweak of the decision process. However, we also wanted to bring awareness to this pressing issue without using the accusatory tone of many other sustainability initiatives. Offering a moment to just sit back, relax and learn about the recycling program was a nice way of doing that. Even by falling asleep consumers are doing the right thing, as long as they don't opt out.

Deploying an opt-out-only program may seem dramatic, but the response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. Two months after the launch, Sandvik has not reported a single customer who's opted out.

The initiative drastically increased participation almost immediately, putting Sandvik on track to meet its goal of 90 percent circularity by 2025. All while proving that sometimes, the best way to make a difference is by doing nothing.

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