The rise of ‘the sustainable self’… what we’ve been reading this week at Brand Genetics

This week we’ve been reading all about sustainability and a few insights have caught our eye…

As climate change protestors Extinction Rebellion goes from strength to strength and Greta Thunberg courageously takes to the stage at the UN climate conference week to challenge world leaders on their consumption habits, the practice of sustainability presents itself an one of the most, if not the most pressing issue of today. While there has been a lot of chatter about CSR, Social Purpose and improving environmental conduct in recent times, we are also witnessing a more individualistic approach to consumption habits, with consumers practicing sustainability in more than just eco-friendly behaviours. As such, we are witnessing the rise of the ‘sustainable self’ which sees people extending their mindful habits to their whole selves — seeking to live — in mind, body and spirit — in more circular and less wasteful ways.

Extinction Rebellion Protest

The Rise of The Sustainable Self

As the global burden of climate change is readily apparent, consumers are increasingly mindful of the impact of their purchases — not just on the planet but on themselves and others too. While it is true that consumers are increasingly opting for more sustainable brands and products such as those made from recycled materials or those with a reduced carbon footprint, consumers are also seeking to consume less stuff all together. Increasing awareness of the negative impact of overconsumption means consumers are extending their sustainability practices to everything from food to finance to fashion.

Why are we witnessing the rise of The Sustainable Self?

While it is definitely the case that climate change is the catalyst for the rise of the sustainable self, there are a number of consumer trends that could explain this shifting consumer behaviour. The booming wellness industry, currently valued at $4.2 trillion, sees consumers prioritise the wellness of their bodies and minds fuelling interest in the practice of mindfulness. It is true that mindfulness, as a meditative practice to reduce anxiety and negative thinking has been around for a while now, the practice has recently been leveraged to help people consume less frivolously.

Loosely defined as the state of being consciously aware, mindfulness facilitates more sustainable behaviours by encouraging us to give our full attention to what is being consumed in the present moment. From mindful spending to mindful eating, the increased attentiveness given to these activities reduces the need and desire for excessive consumption.

The Maria Kondo Effect

The curious success of the Netflix show about tidying up released at the beginning of 2019 is another insight into the rising interest in sustainable living. Dubbed the ‘Maria Kondo Effect’ and devised by Japanese organising consultant Maria Kondo, this meticulous tidying methodology fuses minimalism with pragmatism, offering hoarders and shopaholics the perfect antidote to overconsumption. Viewers claim the tidying techniques have helped improve their mental health, by claiming that having a clean home helps them organise their minds and makes them feel calmer. Kondo encourages people to only keep items which ‘spark joy’ — encouraging us to question the experiential value that things gives us, disposing of all else in order to create more harmonious and balanced living and thinking spaces.

Organisational Guru Maria Kondo

Such sentiment seems symbolic of the broader cultural shift which sees consumers advocate for ‘less but better’ favouring higher quality products but less of them. Perhaps in the era of the sustainability self, this sentiment is in fact shifting towards the attitude ‘less but better, for longer’ with consumers prioritising the harmony and balance of not just their environmental but also physical and psychological eco-systems too.

The Human Experience (HX) learnings?

Climate Change may be one of the biggest crises of our time and as such in the West, sustainable business is becoming a hygiene factor for consumerism. But this is no longer just about environmental eco-systems, the threat of climate change and the increased awareness of the impact of our destructive consumption habits is driving a sea change in behaviour.

Increasingly people are adopting the attitudes they have towards keeping the planet in equilibrium as they are themselves. With this, we see the rise of the sustainable self. It is possible to innovate for a more sustainable future by being mindful of this imperative and interrogating the ways in which these larger eco-systematic shifts are having an impact on the people which inhabit them.

Clemmie Prendergast is a consultant at Brand Genetics, an insight and innovation agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With a background in anthropology, she has a wealth of experience in behavioural science and psychology and has worked in strategy, insight and behaviour change.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics

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