Opinion

Does Responsible Consumption Benefit Companies More Than Consumers

With the Rise of Sustainable Living, Everyone Benefits

By Jean-Claude Quintyne

It’s worthwhile to examine whether or not responsible consumption—the purchasing of items such as energy-efficient light bulbs and hybrid vehicles that are supposed to solve our environmental issues—makes a meaningful difference.

In a new paper authored by researchers Markus Giesler and Ela Veresiu, it is argued that responsibility for taking care of pressing issues is shifted to consumers from corporations, which leaves the corporations free to continue as usual and puts policy makers in a compromising position.

“When businesses convince politicians to encourage responsible consumption instead of implementing policy changes to solve environmental and social problems,” write Giesler and Veresiu in Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity, “business earns the license to create new markets while all of the pressure to solve the problem at hand falls on the individual consumer.”

These markets are targeted to health-conscious consumers, financially literate consumers, and green consumers, all of whom fall into the category of “responsible capitalists”.

Giesler believes that executives strongly feel that initiating markets to create responsible capitalists can change the world and that the problem lies within the mindset of today’s leaders, who “believe that we need to teach people to be more responsible and sustainable”, he said in an interview with FastCompany.

If there are markets being created that get people to buy more sustainable goods, why does it matter if corporations “continue as usual” and what are corporations doing that make them want to continue as usual?

Giesler and Veresiu analyzed the latter part of that question by creating a four step model. First, political problems such as consumers buying the wrong type of car—anything not a Hybrid, for example—get twisted as failures of individuals.

Second, economic elites promote the idea that individuals can fix environmental and social issues by adopting sustainable lifestyles because of the broken political system.

Third, with that idea, corporations create markets for energy efficient products, which causes individuals to move into their new roles as “responsible capitalists.”

Why mention that corporations “continue as usual”, if they are the ones setting the example with the adoption of living more sustainable lives? Shouldn’t it be assumed that they are?

The paper does not seem to explicitly state what it is these corporations are doing, but in a wider scope it is good that more people are living sustainably.

For health-conscious consumers, the soaring popularity in buying organic foods from a variety of stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Natural Food Market has shown benefits in not only health and finances, but also offers an intricate knowledge of awareness of food quality.

With the rise of Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs), which use less energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, people are saving more money.

The same is true for people who buy hybrid cars, get their clothing from ethical companies (H&M, for example), purchase devices from eco-friendly companies like Nokia (which uses polycarbonate plastic in its phones), and invest in solar power.

With the many people switching to such a lifestyle, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for corporations to take this initiative—more people understand that it is important to preserve the planet’s natural resources and reduce pollution.

“There’s a tremendous belief in the problem-solving capacity of the market,” Giesler said to FastCompany, “that somehow all we need is a competitive infrastructure and then some inventor will come and provide all the silver bullets for all our problems.”

The longer the wait to take action, the worse the situation gets. So it is crucial for individuals to take advantage of this initiative from corporations and trust in themselves to make a meaningful difference.

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