If we are to live more sustainably we are going to need to adopt a different attitude towards “stuff” – the material goods we accumulate. That could be quite a hard task as it clashes with some significant beliefs and behaviours.

Reason #6: Stuff confers status

Much of our social status is defined by our possessions. The cars we drive, the fashion labels we wear, the video games we play, the houses we buy and the suburbs we live in all say a lot about us. Our stuff is a form of communication, and for the most part most people don’t want to say something that is too far away from the norms of their peer groups.

The perhaps outdated expression “Keeping up with the Joneses” has been described as spending money you don’t have to buy things you don’t want to impress people you don’t like. Your one year old 50 inch TV obviously puts you at a social disadvantage since your neighbor bought the latest 70 inch screen. Or is 90 or 120 inches the minimum respectable screen size already?

Reason #7: I want it now

We live in an age of instant gratification, and for every material desire there is somebody willing to fulfill it. Look at how quickly the latest upgrade to a mobile phone or game system sees people lining up for it, even though its functionality is barely changed from the old model. And forget the old-fashioned idea of saving up for something you really want. Just pull out the credit card and it’s yours. Now.

What would happen if we each held onto our mobile phones for two or three years instead of just one? Imagine all the raw materials that don’t need to be dug up and refined and the coal and oil that wouldn’t need to be burnt. Of course, that all comes with a significant reduction in the labor required to mine, make, transport and sell all this new stuff. Which leads back to issue of self-interest I raised in Part 2.

Solution #6: Confer status

A Toyota Prius may not be the type of car you typically associate with movie stars. Yet Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Julia Roberts are amongst those who have reportedly opted for the fuel-miser. (Perhaps this is a case of the status of the Prius being enhanced by the people who choose to drive one).

Status is achieved in different ways. Even if most people fail to act on their environmental convictions, they may still look favourably on people who do. (Mind you, the converse can also be true).

Providing people with a way to conspicuously exhibit their positive actions, particularly one that doesn’t come with any great inconvenience, can be a successful way of creating a market for your product.

Solution #7: Build a brand

This is another very basic marketing strategy. It takes time and focus, and for many businesses it is a task that can drop down the priority list as all those urgent daily demands clamour for attention.

What does the mere mention of McDonalds bring to your mind? High quality, creative cuisine? Or quick service and a consistent product? How about Hilton, Toyota or The Body Shop? These are all strong brands and most people would be able to describe the particular qualities of their products and where they fit in the market. A strong brand is also a financial asset that can be sold.

Your brand doesn’t need to become a household name in 47 different countries. It just needs to be recognisable to the market or audience that you want to reach. It doesn’t even need to project a sustainability message. Focus instead on the particular qualities that your audience will perceive as being of benefit to them.

What goes into building a great brand? A quick internet search will deliver plenty of advice.

Back to Part 3

On to part 5

Image: Wikipedia