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Sustainability Mythbusters Part VI: There’s No Consumer Demand for Sustainability

pasternak, jean, schneider electricWelcome to the Sustainability Mythbusters series presented by Schneider Electric. In this six-part series, Schneider Electric’s Global Sustainability Services team explores common misconceptions related to the topic of sustainability and presents a business case to “bust” each myth.  

Selectively search the Internet and it’s usually easy to find the research one needs to back up a stance. That used to be the case when talk turned to whether or not there’s demand from consumers for more sustainability in the companies they deal with.

The tide seems to be turning toward consumers who prefer, if not outright demand, more sustainable products and services. And even if some research shows that people may still be on the fence about whether or not they’d pay more for sustainability, it’s becoming clear that more people are choosing sustainability.

This shift has come, in part, from that fact that consumers view sustainable products as better for their health and the environment. According to the 2013 Tork Sustainability Study conducted by Harris Interactive, 78 percent of consumers say they buy green products and services, up from 69 percent a year prior. Of those in the 2013 survey, 20 percent cite health reasons – an increase of 8 percent over 2012 – and 47 percent say they do so because of the products’ effects on the environment.

Consumers also see the implications of sustainability in terms of its costs. Given sustainable options at similar costs, consumers by and large will go with the more sustainable product or service. They may not lean that way, however, if the cost difference is too significant.

But there is more to the price than what is on the tag as many products often don’t include externalized costs. In this day and age of accessible information, consumers have become more aware about where the products they purchase come from. They’re more cognizant of transportation costs – something that hits their own wallets in the form of high gas prices.

Similarly, when it comes to sustainability and cost, the less expensive price tag doesn’t always reveal the true – and less sustainable costs – of cheap labor. When comparing similar products, a cheaper product may not simply reflect a lesser quality of materials or craftsmanship, but it may have been produced with ultimately higher costs to the environment and the communities in which it was produced.

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One thought on “Sustainability Mythbusters Part VI: There’s No Consumer Demand for Sustainability

  1. Always one of the most fascinating discussions/debates in our space and extremely important, but very simple I believe.

    Mainstream consumer buying behavior (not eco driven segments) is largely driven by price, especially in financially constrained environments, which describes many economies these days, whether developed or not. What is misunderstood, is the connection between what people care about and want, and what they are able/willing to pay for. People do care and do want products that are not built on the backs of child and sweatshop labor. They don’t want products that harm the environment in their manufacture. They expect this, it’s a latent demand. They’re not going to jump up and down and demand this overtly. It’s like quality… people expect a product to perform and have a degree of durability. It’s a given.

    What industry has to do is transform the take/make model to achieve economies of scale and scope employing sustainable practices, processes, materials, etc that don’t extract cost premiums and price out the mainstream consumer. That is the challenge, not determining if customers want products that do no social and environmental harm. All other things being relatively equal, including price, of course they do.

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