Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Positive Consumption Trend

Nick Aster of The Triple Pundit has an interesting interview with Sharon Greene of RISC International, talking about green consumer trends.  Says Aster, Greene is "acutely aware of how “green” and social conscious awareness is affecting the evolution of global consumptive habits in a generally positive direction."

Greene says that green purchasing is part of a wider trend toward what she calls "positive consumption":

We identified an increasing convergence of five facets of the Positive Consumption trend, which all come together within the same individual consumer:

1. Social Engagement – or consumer empowerment – is the main dimension driving Positive Consumption across the world, it reflects a growing desire to engage and give back to society but also to take back control over one’s life, it’s all about reciprocity.

2. Environment - characterized by an active concern for environmental issues and a desire to do what one can to protect the environment

3. Health - reflecting concerns for the effects that products can have on one’s health and the health of one’s family. This dimension is increasingly linked to environment.

4. Feel Good – an aspiration towards enhancing personal and individual well-being a dimension which emphasizes the fact that the Positive Consumption trend is not about denying oneself pleasure

5. Ethics and ethical behavior – a preference for ethical business and an increasing sensitivity to the collective responsibility we have to ensure that companies do business in an ethical way.

How they prioritize the importance of the green facet may depend on several factors such as product availability, pricing, state of mind or what’s in the press. Copenhagen, which brings green issues to the front page, will impact these priorities. But brands should bear in mind that consumers will be increasingly concerned by all facets of Positive Consumption.

This also means that brands will be expected to be sincere about being green. The transparency that exists today as a result of the dynamic of influence on the internet, for example through blogging and social networks, could cost them dearly if they underestimate the intelligence of the consumer.

It's easy to poo-poo this type of information and say that individual actions really don't make much of a difference in terms of resource impact.  But I also look at trends like this as a gauge of trends in human consciousness.  From that standpoint, given that each of the 5 facets Greene notes are related, I'd like to say I can find some hope here that humanity is waking up a little bit -- and realizing that what's better for the earth is also better for ourselves.

The problem is that after reading posts like this, I still know that surprisingly few Americans have taken such basic green steps as replacing their incandescent light bulbs with efficient CFL's.  So how substantive are these trends, really?  How much of a positive impact on on the biosphere -- its climate, forests, waterways, and biodiversity -- is "positive consumption" really going to have on its own?

I've written before on this blog about how if everybody does all these things to reduce their impact on the earth, the resource and money savings, as well as emissions reductions, are staggering:

Savings On Home & Business Energy Costs – Throw in home energy efficiency, including such typical tips as purchasing EnergyStar appliances, using energy efficient light bulbs, and operating your home more efficiently by sealing leaks and turning down the heat and AC a bit, and savings jump another $500 to more than $3,000 per household per year (the final amount depends on the size and energy use of the home; numbers derived from Conservation Value Institute’s ‘GreenTracker’ sustainability savings calculator). Again, multiply that by 112 million households, and find that another $56 billion to $336 billion of Americans’ hard earned dollars are freed up from energy bills for us to spend widely, to save for our children and theirs, and to contribute to charitable organizations working to make our world better.

The problem is that to get this many people to take the required steps will take some form of regulatory mandates, likely for the manufacturer.  Those types of things are often politically unpopular, but they can be very effective. 

For example, look at Japan's 'Top Runner' energy efficiency policy, which "searches for the most efficient model on the market and then stipulates that the efficiency of this top runner model should become the standard within a certain number of years" -- now that's a way to push progress in terms of reducing the impacts of our consumption!

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