On Tuesday, January 20, 2009, I joined the literally millions of people who embarked on Washington DC to witness an historic moment, the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I stood side by side with people representing different ages, races, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds in frigid temperatures for over 6 hours. Located at the 4th Jumbotron by the “Castle,” I was nearly a mile from the steps of the Capitol, where the swearing in occurred, and was surrounded by an ocean of people as far as I could see. Despite the temperature, crowds, and long wait, I would not have rather been anywhere else on Tuesday morning.
Staying true to his incredible oratory skills, President Obama gave a riveting inaugural address. He spoke of a “new age”, the need “to make hard choices”, and for Americans “to choose our better history.” He called for action, the restoration of “science to its rightful place”, and the harnessing of “the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”
One thing President Obama spoke of has continued to run in my head. “For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.” Translation: the success of our government and its ability to “work” is dependent upon the commitment and participation of every American. These words from President Obama made me think less about our government and more about our business community. Specifically, it has made me think about the state of environmentally/socially sustainable-oriented organizations.
In recent years, there has been tremendous advancement in the availability of sustainable products and services. And according to several surveys, consumers readily support these innovations. A survey by Information Resources, Inc concluded that approximately 50% of US consumers consider at least one sustainability factor when selecting a consumer good. Another survey by global consulting firm Accenture showed that consumers are willing to pay, on average, 11% more for these products and services.
I love to see these numbers, but unfortunately, I do not think they tell the whole story. If 50% of US consumers consider at least one sustainability factor when buying an item, doesn’t it seem like we would have more sustainable products on the market? The problem is there is a big difference between what consumers say and what they do. The classic example of this is Coca-Cola and Pepsi. In blind taste tests, people prefer Pepsi. However, year after year, Coke outsells Pepsi.
My assessment of this survey data is that people say they want sustainable options, but most do not follow through at the point-of-purchase. This brings us back to the line in Obama’s inaugural address. For as much as risk taking entrepreneurs and companies can and must do to develop more sustainable-oriented products and services, ultimately it is the support of customers upon which these businesses rely. Translation: if we want these new type of companies and their product/ service offerings to survive, the responsibility is ours to support them. This means buying these products over the conventional ones.
Some may say certain products do not perform as well as the conventional ones. I would respond by saying support these products by giving the company prompt and honest feedback on how they can improve. Some may say these products are too expensive. I would tell these people to consider the full cost of the “cheaper” alternative (that $5 “bargain” t-shirt cannot include the environmental cost of conventional cotton, nor the social cost of unhealthy labor practices).
This post is not a plea to try to get you to buy something from Atayne, although if you are in need of a new performance top, we would love you support! This post is to remind everyone that we live in a free market economy and have the power to demand the products and services we want. However, the responsibility is ours to make it happen. When you need (let’s avoid conspicous consumption) to purchase a new product, service, etc., please remember to vote for the environmental and social responsibility with your wallet.