Future Consumers in a Sustainable World

We can be sure of one thing about the future: it will be radically different from today. The global recession shows how quickly things can change – and we face much greater challenges to our economy and way of life, such as scarcity of key resources, rapid population growth, climate change and loss of biodiversity. These problems of sustainability affect our consumers and suppliers around the globe and are putting ever-increasing pressure on our business models. They make it essential for us to reorient our global economy around sustainable, low-carbon patterns of consumption.

Over the next 10 years we can expect major changes to the consumer retail sector. Demand for basic resources such as oil, water and staple crops is likely to increase and prices will rise. Consumers’ behaviour and expectations will change: we expect growing demand for manufacturers and retailers to operate responsibly and to demonstrate this through transparent value chains. Successful brands will need toinnovate to meet challenges like these, develop sustainable products, services and business models, and work with consumers to make them a success.

This represents a huge opportunity for forward-thinking brands to position themselves at the heart of the new, green economy, evolving the market to meet consumer needs in different, sustainable ways. Many brands have built a trusted relationship with millions of consumers, andwith it brand loyalty, which can last a lifetime. We believe this gives them both the power and the responsibility to help people lead better, more sustainable lives. In fact, it’s hard to see sustainable consumption becoming mainstream unless brands take the lead.

Businesses and brands should start taking action now to prepare for a rapidly changing economic, environmental and social climate.

Here are our five key recommendations:

1. Take innovative business models to market

In all of our scenarios, brands and businesses have evolved and adapted their new business models to address challenges such as resource scarcity, changing consumer demands and the need to build resilience into value chains threatened by the accelerating impacts of climate change. Companies should be ready to innovate and to develop, trial and learn from experimenting with new, sustainable business models. The companies that do this today will be the ones profiting tomorrow.

2. Work with your value chain to find new solutions

Manufacturers and retailers operate in a complex system, and the challenges of shifting to sustainable consumption are too great for any organisation on its own. Companies should collaborate across their value chain, incentivising farmers, suppliers, designers, producers, retailers and others to work with them to find innovative solutions to bringing goods and services to market.

3. Strengthen local brands and local production

There is no guarantee that global brands will continue to win the hearts and minds of consumers. In two of our scenarios, communities have built up resilient systems to source the products and services they need. Brands that embrace and boost local production and have a local authentic story will resonate with consumers.

4. Build up long-term trust through transparency

Consumers can find information on the origins of products and services more easily than ever before thanks to social media and advances in information and communication technology (ICT), and this trend is likely to continue. Companies are unable to keep environmental or social skeletons in their closets in any of our scenarios. In this world, ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ are no longer niche, and robust standards on environmental and social performance are mainstreamed into everyday products and services.

Companies should prepare for a world where society demands absolute transparency from brands. Businesses which open up their value chains for scrutiny now will earn the most trust from consumers.

5. Use the power of marketing to accelerate sustainability

Don’t wait for consumers to demand more sustainable products and services. Savvy brands will make money by accelerating the transition to a more sustainable world. Companies should use their marketing, communications and innovation skills to create consumer demand for sustainable and profitable products and services. Brands need to understand possible future consumer needs better and to positively influence the things that consumers buy and how they use and dispose of them.

Exerpt of Summary Findings from the Consumer Futures 2010 Report, published in 2011 by “Forum for the Future” – action for a sustainable world.

To find out more and download the Consumer

Futures toolkit go to: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/project/consumer-futures/overview


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