Why are we such happy con­sumers?

Consumer Voice - - Editor's Voice -

Let’s ac­cept it. Be­ing in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try like In­dia, where pros­per­ity is di­rectly linked to eco­nomics, the term ‘sus­tain­abil­ity’ does not hold much strength. Wher­ever the eco­nomic num­bers seem to be dip­ping – whether in the coun­try’s GDP or the bal­ance sheet of a cor­po­rate group – the ‘sus­tain­abil­ity’ as­pect gets short-changed and is­sues re­lat­ing to en­vi­ron­ment, etc., go on the back­burner. Prof­its take prece­dence over the planet.

As a con­cerned and con­scious citizen, I find this dis­turb­ing. At the same time, if I see the same from the per­spec­tive of a busi­ness owner (or even the govern­ment), I see that busi­nesses are de­liv­er­ing what con­sumers de­mand or ex­pect. Ap­par­ently, busi­nesses across the globe, es­pe­cially the con­sumer­fo­cused ones, are con­sis­tently grow­ing, which means con­sumers are gen­er­ally happy with the pro­duc­ers of what they con­sume.

The point here is that although con­sumers are be­com­ing more aware of their rights, they are not con­scious enough yet – they aren’t yet ques­tion­ing brands about their sus­tain­abil­ity prac­tices. They do not re­ally get both­ered by ‘mal­prac­tices’ as long as the prod­uct that they buy is good and eco­nom­i­cally vi­able. We can say that con­sumers are ex­er­cis­ing their rights but for­get­ting their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Let me give you an ex­am­ple. Buy­ing a new car is an im­por­tant de­ci­sion that you ar­rive at af­ter much re­search. Among all the things that you look at, the sus­tain­abil­ity com­mit­ment of the brand is prob­a­bly not even the last fac­tor. Re­cently, one of the well-known au­to­mo­bile brands had been charged of con­ceal­ing emis­sions in­for­ma­tion (they in­stalled hi-tech de­vices that al­tered real data of their ve­hi­cles) in or­der to meet norms. The brand had re­ceived ma­jor crit­i­cism in in­ter­na­tional me­dia and saw en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists stag­ing protests in front of their fa­cil­i­ties. How­ever, it did not af­fect the sales graph of the brand, at least not in Asia-pa­cific, es­pe­cially in In­dia. It walked away by pay­ing penal­ties that did not make any dent in their prof­its. Why? Be­cause prac­ti­cally none of their prac­tices mat­tered to their con­sumers, as long as the brand’s sedan pro­vided the com­fort that they ex­pected.

There are hun­dreds of such ex­am­ples from across in­dus­try groups. Think of prac­tices of pack­aged food in­dus­try on mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of in­for­ma­tion on pack­ets and ads; ill-treat­ment of work­ers by large auto and auto com­po­nents and gar­ment brands; bev­er­age com­pa­nies ac­cused of de­plet­ing nat­u­ral re­sources and in­creas­ing non-biodegrad­able waste (I am yet to re­ceive from Coca Cola an­swers to sim­ple ques­tions fo­cused at the sus­tain­abil­ity of their brand. They want to meet and dis­cuss, but would not re­spond in an email.).

The cy­cle of un-sus­tain­able prac­tices will con­tinue to sus­tain un­less the end con­sumer is think­ing of sus­tain­abil­ity. It is high time each con­sumer started look­ing be­yond prod­uct qual­ity and price and in­cluded the planet in their buy­ing de­ci­sions. It sounds dif­fi­cult. How can you go look­ing for the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mit­ment of all brands that you pa­tro­n­ise?

What you can do is let the brands know that it all mat­ters to you. You can write an email to your but­ter brand and ask: “Do you know what hap­pens to all the but­ter pa­per af­ter I have dumped it in the waste bin?” You can cer­tainly spare a few min­utes to go on­line and find out which brands are mak­ing ef­forts to en­sure that their pack­ag­ing is not lit­ter­ing the planet, or which brands are try­ing to mit­i­gate the neg­a­tive im­pacts of their busi­ness. You of­ten ap­pre­ci­ate, crit­i­cise and re­view prod­ucts on­line. Then why not talk a bit about the man­u­fac­tur­ers of those prod­ucts? Imag­ine read­ing this as a prod­uct re­view: “It’s an ex­cep­tion­ally good prod­uct, cheap­est amongst all in the cat­e­gory, but comes from a com­pany that doesn’t care about the en­vi­ron­ment and its work­ers are gen­er­ally un­happy.”

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