‘Young people do have an impact with their ideals’

12 May 2022

What about our ideals? How do young people contribute to them and is it possible to do business in an idealistic manner in a society focused on money? At the end of this week, LUX hosts the knowledge festival Being an Idealist, in which great thinkers, scientists and activists work together to 'grow new do-gooders'.

Earlier this year, chocolate giant Tony Chocolonely surprised everyone with a very honest advertisement. Above their milk chocolate bar, they placed a huge banner: ‘I’m bad for your health’. Beer supplier Heineken has also been promoting its non-alcoholic variant for the past year. Are these examples of how doing business with an idealistic approach can be profitable (enough), or are they just clever marketing tricks?

José Bloemer. Photo: RU

‘These companies are a good example of how idealism can work in practice,’ says José Bloemer, economic psychologist and professor of Business Administration at Radboud University. ‘After all, these companies themselves say: “I’m taking some responsibility in making a clear statement.”‘ That is different from, for example, warnings in gambling and on tobacco packaging, which are required by the government to be added.’

Dick Timmer is a moral and political philosopher at the Technical University of Dortmund and a speaker at the festival Being an Idealist later this week in LUX. He praises the actions of companies like Tony Chocolonely that advertise fairly. ‘This certainly goes against the way people usually think about how an economy works. If such a company succeeds in designing their business model around topics as sustainability, then that is highly commendable.’

Taking responsibility

According to Bloemer, these examples do not come out of the blue but fit into a new trend. She sees that companies are increasingly convinced that they have to take their responsibility. ‘Not only towards the consumer, but throughout the production chain and towards all stakeholders. Make sure that you do business in an honest and sustainable way, and that this is reflected in all your actions. I think we will see more and more of this.’

‘In classic economic thinking, it is mainly the price that determines whether or not a product is purchased’

Timmer has also noticed this trend shift. ‘In classic economic thinking, it is mainly the price that determines whether or not a product is purchased. Nowadays there are all kinds of labels to show how a product is made, where it comes from, what the working conditions are or what impact the product has on the climate. These can of course serve as advertisements, but in my opinion they are mainly a consequence of society’s need for clarity and insight for the consumer.’

Younger generation

Dick Timmer. Photo: Twitter

According to Timmer, we still have a long way to go. ‘We still like to travel by airplane, and the consumption of meat and other polluting products is still not really decreasing. There seems to be a kind of dissonance within the younger generation. On the one hand, compared to older generations, they are much more aware of how the way we live and consume affects the climate and people around us. On the other hand, they still seem to go along with the current economy a lot.’
Bloemer does not fully agree. According to her, the idealism of the youth does have a great effect on society. ‘For example, because young consumers have started to buy more second-hand clothing, companies like H&M and Zara have started to collect worn clothing and offer them again. This idealism has also contributed to the popularity of the second-hand clothing app ‘Vinted’. For me, this is a typical example of how the youth and their ideals do have an impact.’

Abstract ideal

During the knowledge festival Being an Idealist, (inter)national idealists will come to Nijmegen to discuss these and many more topics concerning idealism. Together with journalist and opinion-maker Sander Schimmelpenninck, Dick Timmer will discuss ways to reduce wealth inequality in the Netherlands.

‘I also find it difficult to translate my ideas into action’

Timmer understands that for many people it is difficult to brainstorm on such abstract issues. ‘Although I do have certain ideas about what society should look like, I also find it difficult to translate them into action. This is partly because, as an individual, you often have only limited influence and it can be difficult to translate such an abstract ideal into something concrete.’

According to Timmer, it is therefore good to think about our ideals together. ‘The thing that makes many social movements strong, is that they do not depend on one individual, but on a group of people who stand for something together.’

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