17 Jan 5 Minutes With… Alexandra Clark, Founder of Telltale Research
When talking about consumer attitudes towards sustainability, it is sometimes hard not to be swept along with generalities. With a huge increase in green goods available, and immense public discussion about how we need to change our purchasing and lifestyle choices, it is easy to think we are on an inexorable path to lowering our carbon footprint. But it is not that simple. For example, in clothing, a report from December 2019 by WRAP shows that whilst there are improvements in design and manufacture there is an increasing number of items ending up in landfill or incineration. So gaining genuine customer insights is an essential, and today we sit down with Alexandra Clark, founder of Telltale Research a multi-disciplinary collective with a particular focus on sustainability that allies strategic consulting, human insight and visual storytelling.
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today, could you give us a little introduction into the work that Telltale Research do?
Alexandra Clark (AC): No problem Luke. I’ve always been passionate about cultural research and launched Telltale Research in 2017 to take a different approach to gathering insights to support social and environmental purposes, as well as profit. We offer a different approach, where we blend formats and media to deliver visual insights. We go beyond just data and powerpoints! I am a strong believer in film and visuals as ways of learning, so have a big focus on this. And then once we have these insights, we work with clients in how to enact these changes. Our clients include the Princes Trust (a UK based youth charity, set up by Prince Charles that helps young people get into jobs, education and training), electronics giant Panasonic, media company VCCP and more.
LU: Interesting, so what led you into starting your own business?
AC: I studied social anthropology and Spanish in university here in the UK, having moved from my native Denmark at 21. I have always been naturally very curious about different languages and cultures, and that led me my degree course, and this plus my love of art and design made London the perfect home. After graduating, I worked for Red Associates, Ipsos MORI, YouGov, MindMover and some smaller consultancies. Across this time I worked on projects with companies like Nespresso, Heineken, Nickelodeon and MTV and ran workshops on areas as diverse as 0% lager, crisps packaging and inclusivity in supermarkets.
LU: Video is a big part of what you do, what makes it so important?
AC: We often use ethnographic research methods to understand how people really think and behave within the context of their everyday environment. By filming our encounters and producing what looks like mini-documentaries, we are able to bring our clients with us on the journey into people’s lives, which gives them a deeper understanding of the insights. It also helps them easily embed the results within the organisation.
In addition to our client video, we also produce an online video series, in which we interview inspiring and interesting people at the cross section of business and sustainability. We’ve spoken to an advertising executive at Wieden+Kennedy, an Extinction Rebellion activist, visited a plastic-free supermarket and took a trip to Pebblefest, an eco-festival. Check out the full range of videos here and watch one below.
Who’s responsibility is it to reduce plastic? April 2019.
LU: Considering the breadth of folks you’ve spoken to, what do you see as a big new trend for sustainability?
AC: There’s lots going on! I always had an interest in sustainable issues, but never had truly dived into it until I worked for myself and launched Telltale Research ( @telltaleACRC ). Then it really did open my eyes, and it is hard to look at much else now! In terms of next big trends – I’d take a look at ‘regenerative business’ rather than just sustainability – the idea that rather than just sustaining our ecosystems and communities, we need to go about regenerating and rebuilding them. It’s about making a net positive impact and not just holding what we have.
LU: You are a Research Partner of the upcoming World Bio Markets in Amsterdam, and will be making a short film at the event, tell us a little about what you are looking forward to there?
AC: I am really looking forward to learning more about what is happening in the industry, what initiatives the big brands have made, and picking up on new and credible solutions to some of the major challenges we face. The news can be quite depressing at the moment, so I would be thrilled to receive a bit of hope too! By attending I also look forward to further unpicking the myth that being sustainable is not profitable and closely connected to that are of course consumer attitudes which I know is set to be a major talking point.
LU: And finally, as we ask all our interviewees, what’s your favourite bio-based or sustainable product?
AC: There are lots of great companies out there working really hard. But I think Patagonia are really out front – they have created so much excitement about their work and have evolved beyond just being a clothing company with their investments, workshops and other projects. They’ve not just tapped into a cultural movement, but also backed it up with actions. I’d like to mention a jeans company called Outland Denim, they specifically help women who have been exploited, as well as producing the jeans fabric in ways that are less damaging to the environment. Well worth everyone checking out!
LU: We sure will. Thanks for the time today, and we look forward to seeing that film from World Bio Markets!