How do we make our production and consumption habits more sustainable?


There's no question that the world needs more sustainable habits of developing and consuming products. But in emerging economies, whose role is it to make this happen?  This was one of the topics we focused on at the recent International Business Forum (click here for a summary).   We heard success stories like those of Tambul Leaf Plates, producing sustainable ecological products such as natural arecanut leaf plates that are used across India.


But it's not easy.  There are challenges associated with supply chains and products themselves.  There is a lack of finance for green start-ups.  There is a lack of awareness among consumers about consumption patterns and environmental impacts.


All sectors have a role to play.  Businesses can innovate around more sustainable methods of production.  NGOs can work with business to help them become more sustainable, and can also help educate consumers.  Governments can promote green business, and help develop markets for sustainable production and consumption.  


What are your views on how we can make our production and consumption habits more sustainable?


  • What are the best ways of increasing awareness of social and environmental responsibility among producers and consumers – so as to ignite the mind shift needed?


  • How can the apparent finance gap of sustainable producers be overcome? What is needed to make sustainable production more bankable?


  • Money or market data, rules or roads: which policy options do governments and donors have to promote sustainable production and consumption?
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Tags: Business, Consumption, Green, Inclusive, Production, Sustainable

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Welcome to the live segment of this discussion!  We are joined by a great panel who are joining us from the recent 16th International Business Forum on Green and Inclusive Business.  One of the topics that was addressed at the conference, is one that we want to explore here: How do we make our production and consumption habits more sustainable?

Let's dive right in with the first question:

Q1: What are the best ways of increasing awareness of social and environmental responsibility among producers and consumers – so as to ignite the mind shift needed?

Our experience is to promote technologies and products which provide win win for both the consumers and the producers. There are many such avenues possible and we need to connect these dots.

Thanks Arindam.  Can you introduce your company to our audience?

I am from Tambul Leaf Plates. We produce biodegradeable disposable dinnerware from the sheath of arecanut palm. Arecanut is found abundantly in the North Eastern part of India and we have promoted a production by masses model to produce these plates by rural producers. We help them to establish these micro enterprises and then provide 100% buy back guarantee to the producers at a fair trade price. The plates are not only bio degradeable but also high quality, oven proof and attractive, thus has a huge demand with the consumers.

Arindam, do you have experience how social and environmental messages reach your (final, end-) consumers? Is that a sales argument? Neutral? or rather a problematic issue?

Dear Zahid, dear participants. Thank you very much for having me. If I may, I would like to start by throwing in the following ideas to the question you raised, Zahid:


  • Social and environmental labels are one option to increase consumer awareness. Labels need to communicate a simple, transparent and accurate claim so as to be credible.
  • Awareness campaigns are necessary to explain consumers the often very diverse and complex sustainability issues, more so as they vary from sector to sector.
  • Producers need to understand the long-term risks associated with externalized short-term costs. Managing soils in agriculture unsustainably will, for example, confront especially multi-national brands with risks of volatile available sourcing volumes at varying qualities. Non-compliance with minimum social and labour standards in upstream tiers of textile supply chains are likely to create significant reputational risks for brands.

Hello, thanks for the invitation to join and also for the interesting question.

Before going all the way into shifting minds, it would be convenient to consider what shapes up a behavior, one aspect are habits, which are created out of practice, influenced by different contexts, family, community, infrastructure, policies… and means to acquire what they consider will help them to live a “good life”

The challenge lies more on the aspirations that drive the consumption than on the act of consuming itself… then the question is: how can we re-shape aspirations into more sustainable ones?

Hey Zahid, hi everybody, 

Maybe to focus on one issue among these - should companies put social and environmental messages prominently in their marketing?

On the one hand - there's a lot of conscious consumers who will respond positively to such message and jump on them.

On the other hand - consumers don't like to be reminded of the world's misery when shopping. Price, convenience, availability, identity etc. are much stronger motivators. I know of quite some brands that have gotten decreases in sales when putting forward "ethical issues" prominently in the sales process.

What's the way out? Mostly, real market transformations have come from "value blending": Organic products have less pesticides, appealing to both 'selfish' motives as well as ethical consciousness... Energy efficient products and solar panels help to protect the climate (and your wallet)... so we should search for these synergies!

Hi Martin,

I fully agree. An additional problem for companies solely focusing on the altruistic motive behind improving social and environmental conditions is that it raises expectations to an extent that can hardly be met. If issues then arise, companies that have been most active will be the first to blame. Therefore, I agree that one should address everybody's interest in improving conditions, first and foremost the consumers'.

The thing is that consumers should be aware of their own power and act accordingly. Consumers decide whether to purchase the product/service of the companies… think on the case of toilet paper in Sweden, in the 80s the housewives demanded non-bleached toilet paper and didn't buy any. What happened? well, producers had to remove bleached toilet paper from the Swedish market.

Consumer cohesion is also important and in a way that is also part of the challenge in places where individuals are driven by the desire of distinguish themselves from the rest of the group. This distinction normally happens by consuming different goods.

How to empower consumers?

Hey Ginnie,

I guess there some "basic aspirations" that one will sparsely change - the need for social acceptance, for identiy, for security and protection... think Maslow or, better, Sidelsky.

Other, more specific aspirations more be shapable - like preferences for housing size and location, for specific modes of transport, etc.

So the question is: How can we shape "specific aspirations" by showing that the more sustainable aspirations in fact better respond to the "basic aspirations"? A preference for fast, expensive cars might be driven by the urge to show achievement, prove ones identity as a successful person, etc. Then we need to show that using car-sharing or public transport can respond to these, or other, basic aspirations (like, being connected, feeling secure, etc.).

Thanks Martin, defining "basic aspirations" in the Maslow context will take us to the year Maslow did his study - 70 years ago- and that's why I avoided using the term "basic" as there's a difference between needs and satisfiers as Max Neef points out.

As you pointed out, the consumption habits are satisfiers (or aspirations of) that shape the behaviors. Think about the rows of people queuing up with their families in a fast-food restaurant in an upscale mall in metro Manila… they do it because they can afford it and fulfil an aspiration itself.

What's cool about car sharing and public transport?

How to make these behaviors desirable?

Moreover, is there enough infrastructure to really show the personal, direct benefit you will get by doing what traditionally is what you're trying to escape of? Three hours in a traffic jam may make you think on the beauty of riding the metro… until you're stuck in the metro with other thousand people… so in general, the change will happen when there are messages reinforcing this behavior and making it more and more desirable (preferential lanes and parking spots for car poolers, 80% of your public transport ticket paid by the company…)


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