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Perry Yeatman

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"Sustainable Consumption" Is Not an Oxymoron. It's Not Optional, Either

Posted: 01/26/2012 3:18 pm

This week, as world leaders converge on Davos for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting, a relatively new topic will be front and center on the agenda for many of the world's largest consumer products companies... namely, how to do more with less.

Yes, while "sustainability" has been and continues to be a key topic at Davos, this report -- launched by the Forum earlier this week -- is the first I've read that actually "does the math" to demonstrate just how important sustainable consumption is for global economic prosperity. Just two data points from the report to illustrate this: collectively, we could save $2 trillion by adapting to resource constraints in 2030. An even closer in motivation is that by 2018 as much as 47 percent of company earnings could be lost due to environmental pressures if we just continue with the status quo.

So, as the report (PDF) says... "there is both an opportunity and an imperative for a much more resource-efficient economy in which economic value creation is not coupled with environmental depletion and degradation."

We're seeing progress... in products, processes and business models. And there are a host of initiatives out there aiming to increase sustainable sourcing. But, despite these efforts, we're only making a dent in the problem. If we can't significantly ramp up current efforts, we will be facing a decade of economic and social turbulence.

Yes, the motivation is clear. It is an economic imperative that consumer companies support the inevitable growth in demand that is coming from the developing world. But, it is equally clear that they can't do it using current models. And, to address the size of the transformation needed, companies will have to collaborate along entire value chains and across multiple industries and with governments in ways never seen before.

But even if we can get that collaboration to happen, it won't be enough if we also can't find ways to engage consumers more often and more meaningfully. We've seen for too long that what we as consumers say we are willing to do (buy more sustainable products and often even pay more for them) vs. what we actually do (which is far too often to not buy the more sustainable product) are at odds. But to make this idea of "sustainable consumption" a reality, companies and governments must find ways to make the consumer/citizen (you and me and the billions more like us) part of the team. Companies know no one wants to compromise on quality or price ,or in the case of a food company, on taste. But what are we willing to do to make a difference? 7 billion people can do a lot. I think we just need the right incentives and systems to make doing the "right" thing easier and more affordable.

So how about joining the team? Let us know what it would take to get you actively involved. This decade will be gone before you know it. And, as we often say on my team, failure simply isn't an option -- for any of us. So get engaged. What great ideas do you have? What advice can we as consumers share? We don't have to wait for companies to do market research, let's blog and tweet and comment and make some noise about what would work. And let's start today! The case is clear. Sustainable consumption is not an oxymoron and it doesn't have to be a pipe dream, either. It can be done. But it'll take all of us and we need to get moving!

 

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