Sustainability and the self

Recently, sustainability has been associated a lot to a green economy, an economy that is CO2 neutral up to CO2 negative. A CO2 neutral economy can happen, if carbon is captured during the production, usetime and end of life of a product. Most efficient are therefore products that are made from biological materials only, like a bamboo straw. A bamboo straw can be cut of the original bamboo plant, dried, treated, sold and used. The CO2 print hereby varies between CO2 negative up to positive, depending on the treatment, shipments and other processes involved.

The real CO2 print becomes more difficult for products that are processed heavily and consist of multiple product components like a shoe or jacket or many other basic products like hair dye and toys for kids. Many of these products consist of synthetic materials or materials that do not biodigrade at the end of their life. To make these products more ecological or more specific CO2 – sustainable, different type of processes might be used or product materials might be replaced with others i.e. plastic toys with wood toys.

So much stuff to rent. Why actually?

Regardless of the business model, consumption often continues to be promoted. Such an example is a “sustainable” business model in which consumers are encouraged to buy an ecological product such as a bamboo straw, but do not know whether the bamboo is harvested in respect to its necessarily growth time. Another example is a buisness model that makes you want to rent or lease products, although you never needed them before to begin with (i.e. expensive clothes or toys).

Why should the self be more recognized in the current sustainability agenda?

The self-concept is a general term used to refer to how someone thinks about, evaluates or perceives themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself.

Baumeister (1999) provides the following self-concept definition:

“The individual’s belief about himself or herself, including the person’s attributes and who and what the self is”.

Carl Rogers (1959) believes that the self-concept has three different components:

• The view you have of yourself (self-image)

• How much value you place on yourself (self-esteem or self-worth)

• What you wish you were really like (ideal-self)

The impact of consumption on the self

Regardless, why or what we consume, it often relates to us – of course it does, since we consume it. However, media, advertisment etc. often distracts us from our true self and therefore encourage a desire to take on an identity by consuming something that does not reflect our true self. Our attention shifts towards a “fictive ideal-self”. An example is wanting to look like a celebrity , someone on advertisment, etc and therefore buying new clothes, dying hair or buying a product to align more with the desired persons’ trait. However, we are not that person, we are ourselves. We will never be that person and likewise, that person will never be us.

Desire for the fictive ideal supports a society less satisfied

Often, we are influenced by media, by friends, culture and societys’ expectations how we should be, what we should do, how we should look like and how we should behave. Many impulses that distract us from who we really are and want to be. Impulses that often lead to greater levels of dissatsifaction as we struggle to think about whether what we have and how we are is enough, or if we don’t need more or changes to be fullfilled.

After the point of consumption , and once realized that the image we created with the idea of the fictive ideal of us, stopped satisfying, the cycle of consumption, re-enters. In addition, other mental health problems might arise, because an image created does not align with the image of one-self. Think about advertisement that rewards or promotes white-caucasion skin types or even hollywood that (can) promote cultural stereotypes. What happens is that a society is created that does not thrive, but a society with wish-full thinking that imagines to thrive with a product that supports an idenittiy or part of it not true to themselves. That can happen, when buying or renting or changing something, that does not actually make happy.

An example is advertisement that illustrates a white rich man with a huge house and a loving wife. The image might create the perception that because of his white skin, a demanding job and a huge house his wife loves him. Because of that, one with darker skin might want to have whiter skin, wants to buy a house etc. In doing so the connection to the real-self gets lost and in doing so also the opportunity to identify success and happinnes for themselves (small job, free time, happinness to attract happinnes)

How can the true self be promoted more in the current sustainability agenda?

Feet are made for walking, jackets made for protection, blankets used to protect from cold, hair care products made to nurture them, body cream to make our skin less dry, to protect it. Food is made to keep us healthy, to connect us to others. Other products are made for comfort, help us sleep, help to support us. Many products weren’t made to sell a look or an image, but because of a fundamental function they support(ed).

A sustainability society or a sustainable industrial agenda, therefore needs to emphasize more to promote functionality over an image sold and a society that allowes for the production of healthy products, that are kept and not consumed to be trashed. This is possible if the self is satisfied with what it consumes. Therefore, products should provide a supporting function, align with the consumers true feelings and desires and likewise be accessible to a wide range of customers i.e. through product/market targeted business models (i.e. rental of healthy product to students, elderlies etc.). Doing so will allow society to thrive, be more happy, be more inclusive and to create an ideal image of the self, while also saving much of that CO2 .

Who cares whether you have bold or gray hair? Imagine time spent worrying , money spend on hair dressors vs. time spend on something fun and money spend to support that fun activity 😀

Resources/ Inspirations

Delmas, M. A., & Burbano, V. C. (2011). The drivers of greenwashing. California management review54(1), 64-87.

Fein, S., & Spencer, S. J. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of personality and Social Psychology73(1), 31.

Frosh, S. (1991). Identity crisis: Modernity, psychoanalysis and the self. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Levänen, J., Uusitalo, V., Härri, A., Kareinen, E., & Linnanen, L. (2021). Innovative recycling or extended use? Comparing the global warming potential of different ownership and end-of-life scenarios for textiles. Environmental Research Letters16(5), 054069.

Muller, J. (1985). Lacan’s mirror stage. Psychoanalytic Inquiry5(2), 233-252.

Velenturf, A. P., & Purnell, P. (2021). Principles for a sustainable circular economy. Sustainable Production and Consumption27, 1437-1457.

Does circularity equal sustainability?

A circular business model adds onto a sustainable business model

I am a huge fan of the Circular Economy and business models for the Circular Economy, because they can help to capture the value of the product during and at the end of the life and likewise add on to the notion of “Sustainable Business Models”. Because materials and products “circle” , less pressure is put on the environment and therfore enable a more trustworthy notion of “sustainbility” i.e. producing in regards to a trees’ growth time without supporting deforestation. Such business models focus for instance on renting or leasing products. Renting out a product also stimulates the use of more durable “sustainable” materials to avoid repair costs. Although the price of production might increase, financial value is captured and returned over multiple renting periods.

Renting instead of buying

As example, instead of buying furniture for a few semesters (let’s think about students with a low budget), furniture could be rented and returned, instead of being thrown away at graduation. The latter happens frequently and had always amazed me as a student. Renting furniture, for instance, would put an empahsize on producing materials that are more durable and repairable and students or other customers likely take more care of it as they otherwise might have to pay a repair fee (just like when renting an apartment with a deposit). In following such a business model, less pressure is put on the environment i.e. trees, as products stay longer in the system. More happiness might also be provided to students, who can now afford to have furniture at home, that has not been pre-owned multiple times or furniture that matches their identity and therefore well-being. Likewise, they might even save costs as they don’t have to deal with graduation furniture deposit arrangements. 😀

Woop, woop, isn’t the circular economy fantastic and sustainable?

Yes, the idea of such a circular economy sounds fantastic, because it can help to save resources and minimizes waste. So, what’s the catch? Because customers are ought for new products on a frequent basis not all circular business models are sustainable. This particular accounts to those circular business models that encourage consumption instead of minimizing it. Such business models might be those that focus on short-term rentals. Short-term rental is not sustainable if it promotes customers to rent more products for various occasions be that for multiple seasons or meet-ups as oppose to promoting products to last or products that cater the customer’s identity and needs.

The problem with short-term rental such as for fashion might also imply, that although goods are taken back, they may not necessarily circle in the next season, as fashion or other products become outdated and therefore disposed. Therefore, there is also a lower incentive to invest into the ecological sustainability of a material or product. Likewise, these models also influence consumers into constantly seeking for the new and therefore encourage the desire for personal up to identity change. “What I have is not good enough anymore, What do I need to have to be accepted? What if I don’t follow trends? Who am I? What do others think of me if I have the same for too long? Is it okay to always wear the same pair of pants to different occasions? “. – Of course it is okay! 😀

What’s a sustainable and circular business model like?

Ideally a sustainable and circular business model therefore caters around the aspect of “promoting to need less, promoting materials and products I identify or create a meaning with and to promote products and materials that add value to my well-being.” These type of business models should fill a consumer need, instead of creating a psychological need for customers to buy something they don’t need to begin with. As an example, my friends will love me, regardless of me wearing a special dress for easter or my casual street wear / outfit. Of course, changes are fantastic, but do we need them daily or weekly?

A sustainable and yet circular business model should be needs oriented

A circular business model becomes sustainable, when it caters around “our needs” and “identity” also. One of my favorite brands that supports such a business model is “OurChoiceFashion“. Besides its focus on durable and sustainable materials like leather, it also take into consideration aspects of time-less design, which allows customers to wear their shoes with multilpe outfits for various years. For customers to continue wearing their favorite shoes, they have implemented a repair service, that allows for shoe parts to be upgraded and returned back to you.

Something new should not be the primary sales objective of a business model

If we as customers feel like needing to rent or buy products that we never needed before, we think that what we have is not enough. We might therefore feel that buying becomes an essential part of our time spend, when quality time instead centers more around nurturing friendship and self-care. Think about a memory in which you enjoyed company or shared a meal. Does the memory make you more happy or the dress you were wearing as part of your memory ? 🙂

How can we then better promote circular business models?

Ideally, we would like customers to use their products for as long as possible and have them feel connected to it. We may also want to focus on a market-need and niche like student furniture rental. Likewise, can focus on design that centers around season-less colors, genderneutral styles, designs that fit into various waredrobes, furniture and other interior designs that easily match with other colors and of course purpose. For instance, I really enjoy up-cyling old furniture into new once by giving it a new life. Wouldn’t it be great to sell repair-kits in additon to pre-owned furniture to customers? Doing so would allow customers to feel more connected to their products, just like a child or even an adult that bakes a cake or builds a sand-castle or an image to be proud of. Often, we keep these products for as long as possible : ). Likewise, companies remain profitable – A win win situation.

References

Geissdoerfer, M., Vladimirova, D., & Evans, S. (2018). Sustainable business model innovation: A review. Journal of cleaner production198, 401-416.

Parguel, B., Benoît-Moreau, F., & Larceneux, F. (2011). How sustainability ratings might deter ‘greenwashing’: A closer look at ethical corporate communication. Journal of business ethics102(1), 15-28.

Wilson, M. C. (2013). A critical review of environmental sustainability reporting in the consumer goods industry: Greenwashing or good business. J. Mgmt. & Sustainability3, 1.