Is sustainable consumption a marketing fib?

20131001-075551.jpg Is sustainable consumption really possible? If it isn’t then it must be a marketing fib. If it is possible, what does it look like?

In a recent Guardian article about trust being important for building a sustainable company the author started off by saying “One of the reasons mainstream consumers do not go weak at the knees for sustainable consumption is the perception of an elephant-sized contradiction at its heart. To most people, consumption means buying more stuff; buying more stuff means making more things; and making more things means unsustainable consumption.”

They went on to say “This is not about an inability to grasp the idea: you can explain proven, high-impact sustainable consumption to people on the street and they will understand the benefits put before them. This is about instinct – a feeling that sustainable consumption is just not possible. It’s an oxymoron. It’s a big marketing fib.”

My gut instinct says, yes it is a marketing fib, consumption inherently means consuming more of the planets resources and if this is done in disregard to the carrying capacity of the planet ie we only have one, then sustainable and consumption can’t exist together in the same sentence.

But is that true? Let’s look at some experts views of what is Sustainable Consumption.

In 1994 a bunch of experts got together for the Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption. One of the things they did was to define Sustainable Consumption, they defined it as “the use of services and related products which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations.”

Doesn’t sounds sustainable to me. ‘Minimizing the use of natural resources’ sounds a bit too much like making ‘more’ slightly less bad.

So how about the World Economic Forum. Well they do a lot of work around Sustainable Consumption and have produced a report outlining some of the challenges and opportunities of Sustainable Consumption, the report is entitled: ‘More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency’. Hhhmmm. More with less.

In the summary of their report ‘Sustainability for Tomorrow’s Consumer’ they say that “By showing the consumer that there is no need to sacrifice price and quality for sustainability, tomorrow’s successful businesses will meaningfully engage the next two billion consumers, the largest new market the world has ever known”. Nope, that is still more with less.

Yesterday I posted about the ‘how hot will it get graphic’ but that one line above is more scary than that graphic – ‘largest new market the world has ever known’ – so the damage we have done so far was not even the ‘largest damage the world has ever known’.

More with less is not sustainable, consumption with less impact is not sustainable.

So the current definitions of Sustainable Consumption are, in the words of the Guardian article, oxymorons or marketing fibs.

We need to shift our thinking from ‘I have found a way to make money, how do I make it less bad’ to ‘I have created a product that enhances our lives without compromising the planet, how do I make money from it’.

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