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Who is really seeking sustainability? It is not who you think

Sustainable consumption seems an unstoppable force. However, on average, consumer behavior has not yet become more sustainable. Rather, we try to salve our conscience by making gestures towards sustainability; we open accounts at ‘’sustainable“ banks, buy locally made products, while booking flights for a weekend away in the fresh air of the mountains on the same time. Sustainable consumption is in the eye of the beholder.

Man just is not a Homo Oecologicus, whose primary motive is the good of the collective and the environment. When it comes to resources, we do not act rationally. The reason is that our immediate needs emotionally override our more distant ones, so that we tend to satisfy these needs first – regardless of a longer term desire for sustainability. So even if a sense of sustainability prevails, actual consumption will not easily be influenced by attitudes and opinions – not even by our own.

Look at sales for the VW group, for example. In 2016, it sold not fewer cars but actually more cars than ever before. Sales worldwide rose by 3.8 percent, while in ‘’ecologically conscious“ Western Europe, sales were up 4 percent. What does this mean for you as a marketer? Should brands abandon the development of sustainable products? No, just the opposite.

We must conclude that the consumer is not a major driver of sustainability. But you are. As a decision maker, you can effectively promote the development of sustainable products, and actively shape sustainable consumption. You can do this because you make decisions that affect a company and not you personally, as a consumer. This makes it easier for you to be a Homo Oecologicus – and leave the consumer no option but to act “responsibly”. The ball is in your court, so let’s play.