On short-commings and opportunities in the social part of sustainability in a firms’ value delivery

As many definitions seem to circle around the term sustainability, as many interpretations exist and as many misconception towards the terminology exists as well. As a consequence, most attention is paid towards the “ecological” dimension of sustainability and lesser attention is paid towards the “social” dimension of it, or it is perceivingly narrowed;

Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. The quality of a company’s relationships and engagement with its stakeholders is critical.” (UNGlobalcompact)

What is social sustainability not?

A business model that is based on growth, whereby consumers are unconciously influenced into thinking that they need a certain product, is not social sustainable. In fact it is the opposite, if the consumer realizes upon purchase that the product does not contribute to consumer well-being over time, but the opposite. If advertisment or the business model logic is purposely based on that, it is not sustainable.

How can the purchase of a product result in dissatisfaction?

A psychoanalyist explained me that sales work by selling an ideal. That is an ideal lifestyle, thinking one needs to have a certain good or product to match the ideal in advertisment. In reality, this can not be the case, because each person is different by biology and by nature the ideal they have for themselves. When an ideal is sold on the other hand, it distracts from the consumers ideal-self and on the other hand presents an ideal the consumer likely cannot meet.

A consequence is that after purchase the consumer likely will not be satisfied for a while, since the consumer cannot reach the ideal. As a result the level of dissatisfaction with the product rises and the level of dissatisfaction with the consumer self-rises “Not good enough for product xy”. Consequently more products are purchased to meet the ideal.

What if products were satisfying?

The higher the discrepancy between oneself with the idealized product or lifestyle, the more likely new ones will be purchased or the more likely other lifestyles might be persued that appear ideal to one-self. However, often these ideals cannot be reached and that is frustrating;

“Even if I like celebrity x, I will never be celebrity x if I buy their clothing. Even if I buy article y, I will currently not likely have the life-sytle the model(s) is marketing. Even if I buy the bra that has been modelled with larger breast size, wearing the same bra model will look much different on me. Even if I buy the phone that is used and advertized by a successfull manager, I will not need it for this purpose, because I do not manage. Even if I buy the sport article, that I do not like, because I like actaully another sport, I will not like the sport more that has been advertized so joyfull. Therefore, I wonder, what is wrong with me when I buy these articles. Ideally I should realize that nothing, because I determine what I like for myself and how products should support my individuality without marketing it.”

Can business models run without idealization and how could it look like?

Marketing often illustrates “ideal families” often a mother, a father and two children. But families these days are more, there are single mothers, single fathers, divorced families. There are people of different skin colours, different interests in different circumstances. People have different budgets, sometimes people get dirty, sometimes a life-style (within the messy, wondering, beautiful, bizarr and odd world we life in) is far more than ideal. And I think the closer advertisment can meet up to these ideals and illustrate how products, can add value to these weird and strangling lifestyles, the more satsified consumers are with these products and the ideals or life-styles most true to them.

To deliver sustainable value, businesses may think about the following;

  • How can the diversity of culture be delivered in business models?
  • How does the business model deviate from selling an identity or lifestyle but instead helps the consumer to promote their own identity or lifestyle?
  • How is satisfaction sold during and at the end of the production life?
  • How can the ecological value be combined with social value to the consumer and producers of the products?
  • How is being ensure that the products contributes to mental well-being?
  • Can you account for mental-health in ESG?

Resources

Abdallat, M. M. (2012). Actual self-image, ideal self-image and the relation between satisfaction and destination loyalty. Journal of Tourism and Hospitality1(4).

Annas, G. J. (1985). Fashion and freedom: when artificial feeding should be withdrawn. American Journal of Public Health75(6), 685-688.

Landon Jr, E. L. (1974). Self concept, ideal self concept, and consumer purchase intentions. Journal of consumer research1(2), 44-51.

Malär, L., Krohmer, H., Hoyer, W. D., & Nyffenegger, B. (2011). Emotional brand attachment and brand personality: The relative importance of the actual and the ideal self. Journal of marketing75(4), 35-52.

Morrison, A. P. (2009). On ideals and idealization. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1159(1), 75-85.

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