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WHAT SUSTAINABILITY
MEANS TO CONSUMERS

In the environmental marketing world, it's no longer enough to be "green." Businesses and products must be "sustainable".

Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This means balancing the seemingly contradictory tasks of improving standards of living worldwide while cutting down on fossil fuels, cutting out pollution, and conserving natural resources.

To achieve global sustainability, some experts such as those at Germany's Wuppertal Institute believe that we will need to reduce our use of resources by as much as 10 times by 2040! With reductions such as these, consumer products and marketing as we know them won't survive. However, this doesn't necessarily mean lost business. Sustainability actually can be good for business so good for business in fact, it prompted Stuart Hart to write in the Harvard Business Review, "Over the next decade or so, sustainable development will constitute one of the biggest opportunities in the history of commerce."

Today, smart businesspeople embrace greening because it can pay off in more efficient processes and products and hence, reduce costs. (I like to say, "An environmentalist is an efficiency expert in a green cloak.") In the future, as it becomes important to use resources as sparingly as possible, the market will shift toward those companies and industries who align their products and services most closely with the needs of their customers (I call this, "Zero Waste equals 100% Customer Satisfaction"). This means companies who eliminate all the bells and whistles customers don't want in the first place (Gateway makes every computer it sells according to individual customer specs). Companies that eliminate the packaging that makes consumers feel guilty to throw away. Companies that cut down on the energy costs that make a product expensive to run. Look for the biggest opportunities to be created in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable resource management, pesticide-free agriculture, information management, alternative transportation, recycling and recovery, and ecotourism.

Forward-looking industrialists now prepare their companies and redesign or invent new products to compete in a sustainable economy. Here are some of the strategies they pursue:

Replace Material Products with "Dematerialized" Services. If you think about it, people don't need products per se. They just need the functional benefits the products provide. Oftentimes, services can do the job better than products, saving a lot of material and energy along the way. According to the United Nations Working Group on Sustainable Product Development, services can take several forms: 1) product extension services such as repair and maintenance; 2) services like car leasing or launderettes that allow some products to be shared. (In the Netherlands, a "greenwheels" service allows consumers to "time share" rather than own or lease cars. Our Atlanta-based client, Interface, has introduced an Evergreen Lease Program, which allows customers to lease carpeting and ancillary maintenance services; used carpeting is taken back for re-use or recycling); 3) intangible services or "de-materialized" products that substitute services for products, for example, electronic voice mail replacing answering machines, and automated bill-paying services. (IBM Chairman, Lou Gerstner who's company already makes a third of its pre-tax profits from services, is out to make electronic information as commonplace as Kleenex.); 4) "result services" designed with the aim of reducing the use of material products, e.g., pedestrian access rather than need for cars, integrated pest management versus pesticides.

New "R's" of Reuse and Remanufacturing Move over recycling. Businesses are learning how to lay claim to product residual value by adding re-use and remanufacturing to their materials-use arsenal. Grow Biz International has generated a $100 million business selling used equipment through its retail chains that include Play It Again Sports, Once Upon a Child, Computer Renaissance, Music Go Round, and Disc Go Round. Green Disk of Preston, Washington refurbishes diskettes that have been removed from unsold Microsoft packages and selling them to office supply and computer product resellers such as Boise Cascade Office Products and Office Depot. Their whimsical ad tag sums up the quality proposition, "The best diskettes everyone else ever made."


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