Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Educating Consumers about Sustainable Consumption

Businesses need to address consumer confusion about sustainability. A 2011 WBCSD report reviews how business can help to take sustainability from a niche market to the mainstream. As reviewed in the report, businesses need to be part of the effort to explain sustainability to consumers. Ultimately consumers need to understand that sustainability is about a pragmatic approach to solving the climate change crisis we are facing.

One of the chief obstacles that businesses face has to do with the false choice between the economy and the environment. Many consumers fear that sustainable consumption will translate to a decrement in their standard of living. However, sustainable consumption does not have to mean a lower standard of living, just a higher level of intentionality about encouraging more sustainable products, systems and services.

There are conflicting numbers about the amount of people who actually make buying decisions based on sustainability. According to 2010 Natural Marketing institute statistics 83 percent of US adults are associated with green purchasing in one way or another. However, this includes those who make very occasional green purchases.

The WBCSD's report found that only 20 percent of consumers make choices about their shopping habits based on the sustainability of a product. The inference of this study is that a great deal of work still needs to be done informing consumers about the merits of sustainability.

If we are to educate consumers we must have clear definitions of what we mean when we advocate sustainable consumption. One very useful study characterizes sustainable consumption as smart growth (decoupling commercial success from environmental impact), smart use (minimizing impacts associated with product use and disposal), a better choice of choice (manufacturers offers customers better choices) and positive social impact (purchasing promotes well-being on multiple levels).

Consumers have a long way to go, but they are moving in the right direction. We can radically transform our world through educating consumers to make more responsible buying decisions. Businesses have an important educational role to play advancing the green economy by informing consumers about what sustainability really means.

Forward thinking companies are not waiting for green consumer demand, they are using their power to create this demand. Companies like Sainsbury’s and Unilever are already actively involved in efforts to educate consumers.

By encouraging consumers to make more responsible buying decisions we can liberate market forces that can significantly advance the green economy. Educating consumers is the key to facilitating the adoption of green products and services..

© 2012, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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2 comments:

Chris Milton said...

But how do you enforce consumer education?

Take the recent tragic unrest at South Africa's platinum mines. South Africa produces 70% of the world's platinum, 30% of which goes into vehicle catalytic converters.

So there's a good chance your car's price is in some small way determined by the atrociously low wages of he South African miners.

If your a catalytic converter manufacturer, you're not going to want that to become public knowledge.

And there's no one yet making "ethical catalytic converts".

So how do you get something like that straightened out. Regulation?

Richard Matthews said...

It would be ideal to have some secondary school courses introducing young people to the 21st century green economy. In terms of advanced training, all it takes to get people to enroll in green training programs is the dissemination of the available job opportunities. As far as your "ethical catalytic converter" example, regulation is indeed the answer.