It is easy to underestimate the impact of individual choice. And yet, if we were to measure the growth of a country by GDP (Gross Domestic Product or the total value of goods produced and services provided in a year), we’d see that the power of our personal choices shapes the global economy.
The choices we make dictate the prices of products. In the materials economy, we want
cheap products supplied to us at our convenience, often at our doorstep. This incessant demand for convenient services and products at increasingly lower prices has a cost associated with the production of these goods. This cost is the price that society pays in terms of public health impact and social injustice. Often the customer uses only cost and quality to determine the choice of similar products. In order to understand this better, we need to look at the way goods are mass manufactured in the first place and what has made it possible. The 20 th century saw improved transportation, communication and the rise of information technology resulting in a global economy; resources were increasingly sourced from far-flung parts of the world, processed and made available to local consumers. The sourcing is typically from less-developed regions; and consumption is concentrated in developed and developing parts of the world. Cheap rates made possible by the scale of sourcing usually does not pay for the true cost of labour and the associated environmental damage. Often, goods processed from local materials are sold back at lower costs, thereby undercutting local producers of similar goods. This adversely impacts local vendors of goods and services. This cycle unleased by large corporates who control the global economy makes it difficult for those who want to break the chain. Hence, locally produced, indigenous products are increasingly susceptible to adverse business conditions. All is not yet lost
It may appear as impractical and wishful thinking to forego conveniences; but all is not yet lost in taking steps for a better world. A world in which we are less wasteful and more sensitive to how and where we source from; what we eat; and what we wear is becoming increasingly commonplace. Each one of us can be a changemaker! Our choices are like votes - with each purchase, we exercise the power to shape the world. With 2-3 billion new consumers coming online in the near future, it is imperative that we harness the power of the youth to fuel this movement. The good news is that the youth are already aware and know that they can exercise their choices to change the world. Brands that promote local work, work from home, recycling and upcycling are much sought after by younger generations. Millennials comprise 30 percent of the human population and they care deeply about environmental sustainability and social issues. Survey after survey reveals that consumers are making a shift to more sustainable choices -- those that support better health, improved family ties and overall wellbeing. Globally, companies are embracing sustainable products and services, just as the demand for such products and services is rising across virtually every category of consumer-packaged goods.
Individuals can help in the fight against climate change and pollution. In fact, this move towards thoughtful and conscious spending will pave the way for a just and equitable world with minimal pollution. The tribe of environmentally and socially conscious consumers is fast growing. The world needs to move from GDP-based performance measure to
HDI-based and EPI-based performance measures that help assess social and environmental wellbeing. The task is indeed Herculean.
However, the most definitive solution book of this century – ‘Drawdown’ -
demonstrates how individual action can indeed curb climate change. According to the market research firm Nielson, consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Even as we speak, scores of people in urban centres are forming cohesive groups of change-adopters and change-makers who favour sustainable products. From food items to travel options and clothing, the variety of sustainable products has increased in leaps and bounds. Big brands have reported that sustainable products are among the fastest-growing.
Opting for healthier, greener lifestyles influences how we eat, dress, travel and work. ‘Making Sustainability Personal’ (MSP) is an effective way for corporates to drive thought and action, beginning at the workplace. The powerful MSP programme at Mahindra harnesses individual shifts in behaviour to internalise sustainability at work and at home.
Bettering business for a better world
While individual action is important, the other key stakeholders who need to act for a global reboot are corporations and governments. All three stakeholders have to work in tandem. However, sustainability across all three levels is neither convenient nor easy. It involves long-term planning, deliberation and investment. If we were to introspect, we would immediately discover several opportunities for sustainability. From foregoing cosmetics to making our own food, wasting less, wanting less – are we as individuals willing to make shifts?
There lies a world of opportunities in
bettering business for a better world. As we who work for corporates internalise sustainability, we are paving the way for a whole new generation who can help businesses tap into value creation opportunities for a better world. Sensitive citizens can encourage responsible and ethical business, which in turn creates sustainable companies that generate value for society. Sunita Purushottam is Head of Sustainability at Mahindra Lifespaces.