Sustainability – increasingly topping consumers' watchlist

One of the major buzzwords in business in recent years – and rightly so – is sustainability.
As with all such broad terms, however, it can mean different things to different people depending where you are in the supply chain.
How can we define sustainability in a way that can be broadly accepted? What about: Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
However, it is not just about the world's natural resources and protecting them while using them. There is also the question of social and economic resources. In other words, there must be a concern for social equality and economic development.
Where does the term sustainability come from? Some observers would go back to the 1960s and the hippy/green movements that sprang up at that time. Indeed, the movement has its roots in social justice and conservationism.
A more concrete definition for sustainability took shape with the work of the Bruntdland Commission. It was in 1983, that the United Nations asked former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to manage a new World Commission on Environment and Development.
That was because despite decades of efforts to raise living standards through industrialization, many countries were still dealing with extreme poverty. Although economic development was taking place, there was a huge cost in terms of the world's ecology, peoples' health and social equity. In short, it was not leading to widespread prosperity or rising living standards generally.
It took the Brundtland Commission four years to release its final report, entitled Our Common Future. The report provided a definition of sustainable development as being development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Above all, the Commission managed to unite environmentalism with pressing social and economic concerns and place them on the world’s development agenda.
The Commission succeeded because it called for a holistic approach that takes into account all three elements: ecology and the social and economic dimensions.
Let's take a look at those three elements:
Environmental Sustainability
The Earth’s environment is kept in balance when natural resources are consumed at a rate where they can replenish themselves. In this way, ecological integrity is maintained.
Economic Sustainability
People everywhere can maintain their independence and have access to the resources that they need in order to meet their needs. When economic systems are preserved and activities are available to all, this can ensure secure sources of livelihood.
Social Sustainability
Universal human rights and basic necessities should be available to all, with access to enough resources to ensure that they, their families and their communities can live healthy and secure lives.
Furthermore, healthy communities should be ruled by just leaders who ensure that their people's personal, work and cultural rights are respected and that they are protected from discrimination.
Consumers willing to pay premium
There is clear evidence that consumers are influenced by the perceived sustainability of a brand and willing to pay a premium for products from a sustainable brand over a non-sustainable competitor brand.
A 2019 survey carried out by Hotwire found that almost half of Internet users globally would not purchase products and services from a brand that acted in a way that went against their personal values, and top of the list was protecting the environment.
Even if the idea of sustainability does not top personal priorities, using a purchase to do good attracts many shoppers.
Splashing out on something expensive that is environmentally friendly help people compensate for the guilt they are feeling about their self-indulgent spending, according to one theory.
And for many other shoppers, choosing a sustainable product is a personal priority, and they want others to be aware of it. Sociologists call in Social Signaling: consumers acquire certain products because of what that tells people around us.
However, while we may be happy to pay a higher price for goods that are environmentally friendly, ultimately sustainability needs to be accessible to all.