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  • Astrid von Schmeling 10:20 am on September 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: BSR, consumer research, , futerra, globescan, sustainable consumption   

    In search of the sustainable consumer 

    During the coming two decades, about two more billion people will join the middle class and the planet will have to go from sustaining 1 billion consumer lifestyles to 2-3 billion. Any global brand that’s seriously looking at its role in society has the sustainable consumer as its holy grail.

    Pursuing consumer engagement is nothing new. And over the years most research seem to indicate that a sustainable lifestyle is ‘just around the corner’, yet never at hand.  Take BSR’s and Futerra’s report, Value_Gap, published this week. According to survey respondents, consumer interest in sustainable lifestyles will become a market dominating force by 2018. They claim that at present, 88% of consumers are only ‘slightly interested’.


    Research shows that Chinese and Brazilian consumers prioritize environment impact in their  purchasing decisions.

    Research shows that Chinese and Brazilian consumers prioritize environmental impacts in their purchasing decisions. Photo: Flickr

    Not all studies are telling the same story, though. Some recent research actually indicates that a wider consumer base for sustainable consumption is within reach today. This may be more attributed to the granularity of the study, rather than an actual indication of the state of the sustainable consumer.

    Globscan’s Regeneration Consumer Study 2012, an online consumer survey on sustainable consumption, indicates that people in developing markets (Brazil, China, India) are more than twice as likely as their counterparts in developed markets (Germany, United Kingdom, United States) to report that they purchase products because of environmental and social benefits.  They are also willing to pay more for sustainable products and encourage others to buy from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

    The global appliance manufacturer Electrolux recently published research in six of its major markets and concurs with Globescan’s findings. The appliance company’s consumer survey was carried out as part of a wider brand scorecard study, and consumers were interviewed in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, France and the United States. Here, two-thirds of consumers consider the environmental impact of home appliances to be an important factor when purchasing a product. Like Globescan’s report, Chinese and Brazilians placed greatest emphasis on the environmental impact in their decision-making.

    Compared to factors such as price and features/functions, energy efficiency was ranked as a top-three buying criterion in all of the six countries surveyed by Electrolux. My conclusion? When you specifically ask about products that directly relate to energy use, sustainable lifestyle choices like efficiency is coming out on top today–even when the consumers are asked to choose between other traditional influences on consumers’ decisions. But when you talk about harder-to-define issues like sustainable lifestyle, the outcome is more difficult to pin down and the timeline for achieving sustainable consumption gets much longer. In short, the claim that the sustainable consumer is here today may not only be wishful thinking.

  • Fran 3:48 pm on January 24, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ecocide, story of stuff, sustainable consumption, , WEF   

    Is the WEF’s Sustainable Consumption report credible? 

    Last week, The World Economic Forum published a report proposing a leading role for the private sector in scaling sustainable consumption. The document is clever but who, apart from companies, is going to believe it?

    More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency
    does a good job of setting out the challenges and opportunities. It points out that over US$2 trillion in global economic output to 2030 is at stake, and that business-as-usual won’t work in a resource constrained world.

    Business, it says, can play both a leading and an enabling role in scaling sustainable consumption by transforming:
    • Demand through interactions with the consumer
    • Value chains through new business models
    • Rules of the game through public-private partnerships.

    A thrusting and can-do proposal, but one that also suffers from tunnel vision. And without a broader outlook WEF has little chance of wooing partners and building the trust needed to deliver on sustainable consumption goals. The solution? Tackle a few uncomfortable truths head-on:

    1. Credibility. The enormous popularity of Annie Leonard’s critique The Story of Stuff (15 million views and counting) shows that many people see corporates as the perpetrators of unsustainable consumption. So how will businesses persuade consumers, NGOs and governments that they are serious about driving the turnaround?

    2. Laggards. If businesses want a lightly regulated ‘leading and enabling’ role in the transformation to sustainable consumption, they must show how they will manage their own slow-movers and laggards. They are currently way too silent and clubby on this topic. It’s time to break ranks.

    3. Lobbying. Too many companies promote sustainability publicly and then privately lobby governments for short-term economic gain. To be credible, leading companies must fight for sustainable solutions and make loud protests against unsustainable ones. That means standing firm against, for example, irresponsible tar sands exploitation –unanimously condemned as ‘ecocide’ at a mock trial at the UK Supreme Court last year. Are they ready to do that?

    4. More is more. Apart from mentioning Patagonia’s bold ‘don’t buy this jacket’ advert, the report fails to address the idea of how less consumption can be scaled, probably because most companies are just too uncomfortable with the notion. Nothing’s changed then in the 17 years since SustainAbility’s report Who Needs It? triggered similar reactions.

    5. Values. The report’s business case of cost avoidance, cost reduction, revenue growth and revenue protection shows how financial value can be captured in the switch to sustainable consumption. But the values case is absent from the report, even though it urges ‘emotional’ communication with consumers to get them to embrace sustainability. Shame.

  • Fran 1:19 pm on May 2, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: sustainable consumption,   

    The rise and rise of Collaborative Consumption 

    Did you know that most power drills are used for an average of 12-13 minutes in their entire lifetime? Neither did I – and as Rachel Botsman the collaborative consumption guru points out, that’s a big piece of kit to buy and store when what you really want is a few holes.

    Collaborative consumption describes the rapid explosion in swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting being reinvented through the latest technologies and peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplaces in ways and on a scale never possible before.

    Time calls the concept one of the “10 ideas that will change the world” and in her recent book What’s Mine is Yours Rachel Botsman describes why.

    Of course ideas like lending and product services systems have been around for a long time but today internet technology is removing the friction from P2P relationships, and a flood of activity is diverting us from ownership to access.

    Zipcar, the US pay-as-you-go car rental service started modestly at university campuses and has 560,000 members today. Its recent IPO raised $174 million, over twice its original target.

    Landshare connects people who have a passion for home-grown food with those who have land to share. Started in the UK in 2009, it now has nearly 60, 000 members and no doubt a profusion of veg.

    Even banks are being by-passed by the collaborative consumption shift. Zopa is an online marketplace that matches people with money to invest with borrowers who need a personal loan. By cutting out the middleman Zopa offers competitive rates to both parties – and the default rate is less than 1%. As they say, everybody wins, except the fat cats!

    What’s making it all possible? Years ago you’d be unlikely to form a business relationship with a complete stranger, but today the internet offers the social glue to build trust, and the efficiency to follow an individual’s track record.

    As Wired puts it: “What matters in the new era is not your physical wealth, but your reputation”.

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