From: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Published December 30, 2008 08:51 AM

Business, Consumers Must Work Together for Sustainable Consumption

 Although people want to live more sustainably, there are still plenty of barriers keeping them from acting in tune with their thoughts. A sustainable society won't be born out of just consumer choices, but out of business actions as well.

A new report from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development looks at global consumption and the varied ways businesses can bring sustainability to the mainstream.

Global consumption patterns are not sustainable, and have already had detrimental impacts on the Earth. As the report, "Sustainable Consumption: Facts and trends from a business perspective," points out, the world is experiencing rapid population growth, and more people are consuming more, especially in emerging countries.

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While survey after survey shows consumers are, on the whole, concerned about their impacts on the environment and willing to act, they do not always follow through with different behaviors. The reasons for that are numerous: some green choices aren't cost effective, it's inconvenient to give up certain things, and there is a general lack of understanding or confusion around areas like product labeling.

The role of business in moving the world towards sustainable consumption is to make sustainability commonplace. Companies must make green choices easy to make as well as easy to understand, affordable and comparable to conventional choices.

Businesses also need to innovate new products and service, harness the power of marketing and new forms of communication to influence consumer choices, and eliminate unsustainable products and services.

For many products, like cars, detergent and electronics, the biggest impacts come from their use. A company could have a LEED certified, energy efficient factory, but if the company makes laundry detergent that requires massive amounts of hot water when its used, it's still contributing to unsustainable actions, no matter how green its operations are. Making detergent that works in cold water, though, helps bring down the environmental impact of all end users.

The report is the result of a year-long study of the relationship among business activities, consumer behavior and environmental and social challenges. It includes an overview of consumption drivers, patterns and impacts.

Along with explaining the key ways in which business can play a positive role, the report shows how businesses have already make strides in those areas. For example, after Nokia found out that two-thirds of power used by cell phones is wasted as "no load" energy (energy sucked up by chargers when they're left plugged in after a phone has been removed) the company started reducing the amount of "no load" energy its chargers consumer, lowering it by 70 percent on average. And, Nokia added alerts on phones that remind users to unplug their chargers.

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