DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLES
In the not too distant future, humans will learn to live sustainably or else our race will perish. Sustainability means to continue without end; to meet current needs without compromising future generations’ ability to do so, to use the Earth’s resources at a rate slower than they regenerate. Without man around, this is what nature did for over 3.5 billion years. A pretty good track record! Unlimited economic growth, the current paradigm for the developed world, is not sustainable. In his article The Biosphere Rules (Harvard Business Review, Feb. 2008: http://hbr.org/2008/02/the-biosphere-rules/ar/1) Gregory C. Unruh persuasively argues that sustainability is not an “endless journey,” but a real destination. And, he points out that the perfect model for business, (and consumers,) is the earth’s biosphere.
By learning and following nature’s laws, business can develop products and operate indefinitely. This is what the science of biomimicry does at a product level. With natural laws as the guide, business has a new and much improved paradigm. The new instruction manual shows business what to and what not to do to advance, to achieve success. At Fusion MR we call this e3 (ecological x equitable x economic) success (link to FusionMR.com/why page). Not only does this path enable human sustainability, it delivers far richer dividends to the practitioner.
Given the inevitability of sustainable living by humans, why is it taking so long to manifest? Sustainability essentially turns everything upside down. Success today is defined as the highest GDP per capita (for countries), the most affluent and publicized citizens are the biggest consumers of unsustainably produced goods and services. To be more sustainable than your neighbor, means that you consume less than him. In a world which truly values sustainability, the lowest GDP is best, the most powerful people in the developed world are the worst. And so, obviously, the sustainability paradigm does not sit well with the powerful people that have largely built our current market-society based world. Consequently, they are least motivated to make the necessary changes, to undo all the hard work that got them to where they are today, on top. It’s a very tough pill to swallow and one that not many are willing to take. So, it is more likely that a whole new class of leaders will emerge to perform this role. Not being tied to the past is very often beneficial to the innovator. If you look closely, and don’t rely too heavily on the mass media (conglomerate owned) news, you know this process is already well under way.
Despite the influence of the political and capitalist fundamentalists, the sustainability megatrend continues to grow. As the symptoms of unsustainable lifestyles continue to pile up – e.g. Katrina, Sandy, Haiyan — mainstream economic policy, business and media continue to lose their grip on the status quo system. Hockey legend Wayne Gretsky – the leading point’s scorer in 9 of the 11 highest single-season point total years — famously revealed that being “where the puck was going,” was the secret to his success. A few smart businesses have begun the journey to sustainability — e.g. Seventh Generation, Interface Carpet, Patagonia. Notably, these companies are led by men with strong ethics and tend to be, except Interface, private business entities that are less shackled by shareholders’ rights to economic profit maximization.
Given our society’s financial-based definition of success, why would anyone even want to live sustainably? Only a very small number of highly motivated individuals are living sustainably today. Their reasons include … it’s ethically right, it’s a mega-challenge, it’s much healthier, it provides much higher life satisfaction, it costs less. Almost everyone realizes its importance and most (even in America – the least sustainable country in the world on per capita basis) are making the easy changes now. However, living sustainably is very difficult. Its like swimming upstream every minute of every day. It’s simply too hard for most people given the perceived uncertainty of the benefit. If you’re a good marketer you recognize the situation — it’s called O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y.
As is true for all new trends, the innovator segment provides lots of lessons for the rest as they create and jury-rig solutions to make things work … since few off-the-shelf products and services exist. These efforts show the way for the early adopter and early mainstream segments that follow. Unsung heroes enable the whole market’s later move to sustainable living much faster. It is therefore in the best interest of all businesses to get started on product design for sustainable lifestyles now.
To get started, the first step to get educated. Internally, this means sustainability teams to tackle the most egregious aspects of unsustainable operations. Externally, it means getting a detailed understanding of this new emerging culture by studying and learning from the sustainability innovator market segment. An ethnographic study of sustainable lifestyles will deliver comprehensive insights and understanding of needs, wants and opportunities. The knowledge gained from the ethnographic study, in conjunction with those from internal sustainability teams, provides a solid basis for what and how to develop new products and services that will effectively support the consumer shift from unsustainable to sustainable lifestyles.