Why selling product sustainability seems fruitless

Sustainability has become a trend. It can be found in now almost every store. Yet, when it comes to purchasing products that are more sustainable, we find consumers who do not do so or they may with the same or similiar consumption cycle. Why is that?

  1. The ideal(s) of sustainability cannot be internalized.

Sustainability sets an ideal. The notion is that you can buy something and nobody has been harmed, neither the environment and the people producing it. Now you are not offered the product mainly, but you are offered the standard of sustainability or the “ideal” of it. Its’ a sustainable form of marketing, in which you are made to identify with this ideal. As a result, you will likely buy this product, because of what it intends to reflect and project onto you too.

However, the ideal sold is not necessarily an ideal that is true to yourself. For example, buying the sustainable value “peaceful production” does not create peace within you such as when wearing a jacket produced in peaceful conditions. Because of such mismatch, between what is ideal and what is wanted, felt or aimed at to replace with such purchase, dissatisfaction arises. To compensate such lack of satisfaciton you may keep on buying again. Or you may not buy it at all, because of this recognition.

“Waaa had I had a shitty day at work. So much conflict. Wow, look at that jacket. It’s produced so peacefully. This is what I want.. Grrrr that conflict still persist at work. This jacket is ugly. I actually don’t know why I bought it. I want a different one. I want a non sustainable one, because this is how I feel. Or I want none at all. I want that conflict resolved. Rrrrrh. ” [Internal conflict]

2. Sustainability is a trend and trends do not sustain internally.

It’s the end of the season, or it’s a new season and what you did wear last year is no longer in trend. Currently a lack of sustainability may no longer be in trend. “You need to buy sustainable to be in trend.” Unconciously you may think that you are no longer in trend. However, you cannot be in trend. You are. Yet a result you may go on to buy something new to be in trend. In the long term this does not play out, because of this lack of unconcious identification or “removal of identity” through changes in trends. It creates dissatisfaction with the self (your “true identity”) and likely increases consumption. This applies to trend-changes in sustainable product categories too.

“Damn, I bought this vegan jacket, because its made from banana fiber and not vintage furr, but I don’t really like it and pretend I do for a bit but I do really miss my furr coat. I feel bad though for liking my fur coat. But this is not doing it. I am gonna keep on buying different vegan jackets, to give me the same feeling that my furr coat gave me, but I unconciously know it won’t happen, because my furr coat was unique to me. Shit, I feel so bad for liking something thats not trend based anymore. Will I be accepted if I am outtrended? I am worried I won’t ”

3. Some consumers may wish to want it sustainable.

“Lastly”, there is plenty of market research out, which asks whether consumers would like to pay a higher price for sustainable products. Most respondents will point out yes, but when it comes to the actual purchasing most might not. Such phenomena can be referred to as wishful thinking” Yes, it sounds nice to buy a house and if I had the money, I would also pay for it, but actually I want to use my money for different things I deem as important. For example, more finger food during the week, some other joys or anything. A 20 Euro price increase doesn’t seem much but it seems much in comparison to the joy I get from 5 cappucchino this month with my best friend in comparison to a better produced shoe.”

“Dang, you pay 60 Euros for THIS? I’d pay 5 Euros for this. But ya, I guess you value something differently then I do. ”

4. Are we fundamentally screwed?

Yes, and no. I feel that sustainable products have a greater chance, if they find a particular use case. If they are not promoted for the “value” only, but for example particular features. When I did a social-practice based research on bamboo vs timber, bamboo boards didn’t sell well when marketed as sustainable, but when marketed for what they were “similiar to hardwood, suitable for x and y use case and hey, they also to help restore some degraded mines.” I feel that most product marketing tends to disregard the latter, or switches it around. It likely doesn’t sell well. A better way to go about it might be “Hey this product is cat hair resistent, you may use this material to keep you save from toddler coloring, or you may keep on using that fur for that use case because its great for multiple wash. Polyester won’t do here or there.”

More to it? Let me know in the comments.

References

Van Vugt, M., & Schaller, M. (2008). Evolutionary approaches to group dynamics: An introduction. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice12(1), 1.

Theories on psychoanalaysis (Object-relation, idealization, fantasy, wishfulthinking, internal object)

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