Five consumer ‘truths’ relevant for sustainability

Will consumers ever move to embrace sustainable consumption? This is a question that comes up again and again not least when it comes to the cost of food. So I enjoyed reading the trend briefing from global outfit Trendwatching published earlier this year with the intriguing title Truthful Consumerism.

Trendwatching argue in their briefing that five powerful forces – or what they term ‘truths’ – remain as relevant as ever when it comes to the future of consumerism. They summarise these as:

  • Transparency
  • Aspiration
  • Positive impact
  • Tolerance, and
  • Empowerment

In their briefing they explain each of these in turn and give snapshot examples of how companies around the world are already responding to such ‘truths’.

They set the context for these forces around three main facts (using data from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2017). These are that trust in major institutions – that is, business, government and mainstream media – is falling to all-time lows; most people express concern about globalisation with 27% being ‘fearful’; and a majority of people think systems are failing.

There is also the concern about a ‘post-truth’ world in which people live in a contained world of information, ideas and news that tends to confirm what they already think.

The question Trendwatching researchers ask is how should businesses and brands respond to this volatile environment? The answer lies in grounding innovation in one or more of the five powerful ‘truths’. The briefing says: “This is a uniquely powerful moment to prove who you are as a brand. What you mean, what you believe, and how you make the world better” (page 12).

The bulk of the briefing goes into explaining in more detail the five truths, a few examples are given here:

  1. Transparency – the briefing says people worldwide expect to find out just about anything they want to know and to do this almost instantly. The implications for business are that a company’s internal processes, cultures and values are now public property and part of a brand.
  2. Aspiration – people are wanting to get ahead and do better than the rest or for themselves. This is driven by facts such the three billion smart phones in use which make it easy for people to make comparisons or the growing global middle-class – the briefing cites research showing the middle-class will grow from 2 billion in 2017 (out of a global population of around 7 billion) to 4.9 billion in 2030 (when world population will be an estimated 8 billion). But it is not just a race to have more, it is also about ‘status’.
  3. Positive Impact – Consumers are looking for brands/businesses that make meaningful changes and have a positive impact on the world around them.
  4. Tolerance – despite some recent events and trends, the briefing argues that long-term prejudice is hard to sustain especially as people travel more (1.2 billion international journeys in 2016); increasing urbanisation; and more people receiving higher education.
  5. Empowerment – the argument is we are in the middle of an “epic power shift away from institutions” towards the individual.

The briefing, however, ends with an important caveat saying that its analysis has taken a position which assumes an optimistic view of human nature and in our ability to create change. Judge for yourself by going to www.trendwatching.com and looking out for Truthful Consumerism.