Filt, a Japanese startup, puts old cooking oil to a new use: candles. The Tokyo-based company has implemented a unique process, Fast Company reports. First, it collects used cooking oil from cafés and other local sources. Then, it filters, colors, and scents the oil. Finally, it congeals the oil in containers made of recycled glass (which it finds in local recycling bins). Filt’s product line speaks for itself: who knew up-cycled products could be so… cute? Yet Filt’s approach highlights more than just an innovative re-use of a common household product. By appealing to a wider, more domestic consumer base, Filt could be making “sustainability” more of a household name, so to speak. Does the sale of products like these suggest that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those battling to take sustainability mainstream?
I believe there are two important issues to address in answering this question: the role of the consumer-producer relationship in maintaining a market for sustainable products, and the role of consumers’ attitudes toward eco-friendly goods.
Obviously, for any market to flourish, consumers must consume, and producers must produce. According to one scholarly report, in the building a green market, the consumer-producer interplay is an especially intricate dance. This scholar states that household and consumer behavior plays a significant role in changing environmentally destructive consumption patterns, and that there are a number of measures businesses can take to impact consumer behavior (including making consumers aware of the difference their actions can make). In terms of making sustainability a household name through the sale of green home décor, companies like Filt have the potential for great impact on consumers’ choices.
As for consumer attitude toward green purchasing, I believe the key issue is whether consumers “get it”. Do consumers who purchase sustainable products (like Filt candles) do so because it’s “hip” to be green, because the candles are chic, because they feel pressured to turn over a new leaf by climate change headlines, or because they believe in the sustainability of sustainability? While any of these motives is better than none at all, it’s not necessarily true that “more is better” when it comes to sale of eco-products. Only a lasting change in mindset toward production and consumption – not merely the sale of more products – will establish sustainability for the long haul. This is the real light at the end of the tunnel sustainability proponents seek. While a company can do little to control its consumers’ mindsets, it can, like Filt has done, market its approach clearly and convincingly, thereby changing perceptions over time.
Back to my original question: does the sale of eco-products suggest that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those seeking to make sustainability mainstream? Possibly, when coupled with consumer education. As these products – and their eco-minded producers – become commonplace, consumers’ understanding is likely to evolve.
What are your thoughts on the matter?