According to pessimists, it’s not easy being a retailer these days. The optimists and enthusiasts reply that it’s exciting. It has to be said that in a world where retail is increasingly taking the blame, it could be tempting to through the baby out with the bath water. Yet sustainable consumption is now an accessible alternative that’s easy to adopt thanks to a range of products that is constantly expanding. But does it threaten the longevity of an economic model that is built on growth and always striving to have more?
What is sustainable consumption?
Sustainable consumption was clearly defined in 1994 by the Norwegian Minister for the Environment and covers: “the use of services and products that meet basic needs and contribute to improving quality of life while minimising the amounts of natural resources and toxic materials used, as well as the amount of waste and pollutants throughout the life cycle of the service or product so that the needs of future generations can be met”. Today, brands and distributors are increasingly trying to meet this definition. And there is a sense of urgency.
Will sustainable consumption put an end to plastic?
Worldwide every year more than 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans. We all know what the consequences are: pollution of the marine habitat, species poisoned and a plastic continent of almost 1.7 million km2 adrift which is responsible for the death of millions of species. It’s not surprising that sustainable consumption is seeking to reduce the problem. But how? First of all, by eliminating the primary source: packaging. Of the 400 million tonnes of plastic produced every year, 158 million tonnes are used exclusively for packaging. Fortunately, things are gradually changing and distributers and manufacturers are offering more compostable and even edible alternatives for packaging.
But beyond packaging, it is now the products themselves that are the focus of our attention.
Sustainable consumption is on every shelf.
Food packaging and reusable paper towels, razors that can be sharpened indefinitely, cloth nappies, home-made cleaning products…driven by the ‘zero waste’ movement, sustainable goods are following in the footsteps of food waste, and becoming part of retailers’ new strategies, whether they specialise in the sustainable or not. Brands and pure players are increasingly offering alternatives to our everyday products. The company PAOS is one example. “The future smells good” claims this young French company which started in 2018 creating and selling sustainable and responsible hygiene products. Its pet peeve? Toothpaste tubes. With its relatively short lifespan, its 100% plastic composition and its high consumption (in our lives we all use around 275 tubes), toothpaste is THE product to banish from our bathrooms.
Will there be sustainable alternatives for all our needs in the future?
PAOS offers a chewable version to replace it. Farewell to the good old tube: make way for a small tablet that turns into paste when chewed and mixed with water. All that remains is to use your tooth brush (made from bamboo and/or with a replaceable head to stay in keeping with the sustainable) for state of the art brushing. While it’s still too early to say if the product will be successful or not, the interest is there. The crowd funding campaign launched at the start of the project is proof, with advance sales targets exceed by 2308%! It just goes to show that sustainable can be ‘sexy’…
Sustainable or committed consumption?
The consumer finds its way in the end and so too does the retailer. The former finds the means to meet its needs, while remaining faithful to their ethical commitments. The latter does by offering adapted and quality products that meet sustainable challenges. Perfect, don’t you think? Perhaps not completely. Because if the demonstration holds up on products that are, after all, consumables, which do not induce a significant discomfort for the end customer, what will it mean for products such as textiles or equipment? What will happen when it’s time to refrain from buying? To get out of the habit of impulse buying? To make a judgment and perhaps deprive oneself? It’s hard to say yet, unless…
The Main Think
Can the world of consumerism seriously envisage a transition towards a sustainable logic without getting lost? It’s a vast question. Even more so as sustainable alternatives to all our everyday consumer products are increasingly appearing on the market. At the end of the day, are responsible consumers ‘good consumer’s?
Crédit: iStock, Dream Act, Positivr