By Jami Miedema

The world’s consumption patterns continue to be a major issue today as population growth climbs and resources become scarce. Often, when referring to consumption levels, the topic of sustainable development arises, and it forces us to think about the well-being of future generations. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was created for just that reason: to advance the concept of sustainable development in the social, economic, and environmental spheres, and therefore, ensure the welfare of generations to come. They define sustainable development as, “forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” In their publication, Sustainable Consumption: Facts and trends from a business perspective, the WBCSD looks at consumption trends and offers ways for both consumers and businesses to make sustainability a priority. We will focus on the business portion, which examines three ways through which businesses can approach sustainable consumption: innovation, choice influencing, and choice editing.

Innovation is the avenue for developing efficient products and services by creating goods that are socially valuable while reducing their environmental impact. According to WBCSD, business innovation promotes sustainability through eco-efficiency, product design, supply chain management, and business model innovation. Eco-efficiency refers to actions that add value but support ecological health. Some examples given are re-use and recycling, reducing water consumption during manufacturing, and using videoconferencing instead of travel. Product design innovation can deliver the best quality good or service to a consumer for the best price. The instance the report used was Proctor & Gamble’s dishwashing detergent. After a thorough analysis, the company found that 90% of a load’s carbon emissions were emitted while using their product and not during the manufacturing stage. By re-designing their detergent to work at lower water temperatures, they helped their consumers save money and reduced the environmental impact of their product. Businesses also encourage sustainability by enforcing “green” practices throughout the supply chain and by building business models around the aspects of the business that are most eco-efficient.

Next, choice influencing is the way a company attempts to guide consumers to choose behaviors that promote sustainable consumption. Companies can influence consumers through marketing and advertising, and many are choosing to form relationships with the media and other opinion-formers. Through these marketing outlets, consumers can find access to affordable and sustainable products. Marketing also helps businesses further their reputation as sustainable and responsible firms, and therefore, leverages their influence on society.

The last approach, choice editing, allows firms to have direct control over consumer consumption. Businesses can manage supply chain inputs to control the end product, or they can discontinue a product or service altogether. Editing gives them the authority to ensure consumers are using only the most sustainable products available.

This article only touches on one of the many aspects of creating sustainable development. For more information about the roles that society, regulators, businesses, and consumers play in advancing sustainable consumption practices, please read the WBCSD’s publication: Sustainable Consumption: Facts and trends from a business perspective.

Source: Sustainable Consumption: Facts and trends from a business perspective, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2008.