There’s a growing movement in the green business world that’s about more than just creating eco-friendly products – it’s about encouraging so-called sustainable consumption. It’s about getting consumers to buy less and think more holistically about their purchases.
Yet, the concept of sustainable consumption puts many businesses in an awkward role.
As a society we’ve become hard-wired to shop for low prices, with the assumption things can easily be tossed and replaced in a few years. Businesses have focused on getting customers to buy lots of stuff – not on creating products built to last. The problem is, that leads to a whole lot of waste piling up in landfills and harming the planet.
To change that, environmentalists and business leaders are trying to rewrite the basic rules for what constitutes good business. The idea is that businesses play an essential role in promoting sustainable consumption through the way they make, market and dispose of their products.
According to a 2010 report by BSR, here are the three ways businesses can encourage sustainable consumption:
- Product design – How products are built – from the materials used to the durability to how they’re used – affects how sustainable they are. Businesses need to think about consumption patterns from the get-go.
- Consumer engagement – Companies are in the position to help their customers better use their products and engage them on the topic of smart consumption patterns.
- End-of-use – Creating plans for how products will be disposed of sustainably and recycled or reused can greatly lower their environmental impact.
BSR also acknowledges that there’s a great business opportunity with sustainable consumption. Businesses that show their customers their commitment to sustainability will ultimately develop more loyal and engaged customers. There’s an opportunity for small businesses to show their value compared to bigger competitors that typically compete mostly on price.
Some large companies have taken a leadership role in this movement. Outdoor apparel maker Patagonia has long championed the longevity and durability of its products. Just recently, it launched a new initiative called Common Threads that promotes the repair, reuse and recycling of clothing. The purpose, it says, is “to wrest the full life out of every piece of our clothing.” The company helps its customers resell their Patagonia clothes and offers to fix broken zippers and other clothing malfunctions for free.
More and more companies are using the same kind of language and working on ways to promote sustainable consumption to their customers. Ford Motor Company worked on a pilot program in Toronto promoting the use of public transportation. The company even acknowledged in its 2009 sustainability report: “By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on Earth…Putting 9 billion people into private automobiles is neither practical nor desirable.”
Is your company doing anything to promote sustainable consumption?