7 Trends That Will Shape Sustainable Consumption in 2012

The first month of 2012 is almost over, but it’s still difficult to envision what this year will look like, especially when it comes to the interaction between consumption and sustainability. One of the people who came for our help is Raphael Bemporad, the founding partner and Chief Strategy Officer of BBMG. He offered on Sustainable Brands a list of five trends that he believes will shape sustainable brands in 2012. This is a great list and we’d like to share it with you, adding our point of view as well as two more trends to watch for.

1. The Ubiquity of C2C

“In 2012, we will experience a fundamental paradigm shift from a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace to a consumer-to-business (C2B) and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace -where creating, buying, selling and sharing products and services will increasingly be driven by consumers themselves.”

This is part of the transition to a green consumption 2.0, where consumers are swapping, sharing, and collaborating to find affordable solutions to meet their needs. It’s based on user-friendly digital platforms and grows exponentially also thanks to added values, such as the sense of community or satisfaction from making a better use of resources. These added values provide a good chance to see this trend growing even if the economic climate will (hopefully) get better this year.

2. The Rise of Generation “Why?”

“The rise of the C2C marketplace is driven in part by the influence of values-aspirational, practically minded New Consumers looking for brands that deliver total value: products that work well, cost less, last longer and do some good. Youthful, educated, wired and mostly female, this New Consumer is asking “why” they should care about brands.”

While most of the New Consumers probably agree on the first three characteristics of value in products (quality, cost, lifetime), only third of them “strongly agree that it’s important to purchase products with social and environmental benefits, even in a tough economy.” So the bottom line is that green benefits will probably be in 2012 a nice to have and not a necessity, even for this progressive generation.  

3. The Race to Relationship

“We believe 2012 will see a race to relationship, where the most successful brands will break free of the lowest-price trap and deliver more value by empowering consumers with better products and experiences and championing their success.”

While we see more companies that embrace relationships, the race is still on between ‘lowest-price’ and ‘added value’ propositions and the former might still beat the latter in 2012. Think of it as a contest between Amazon’s price comparison app (“evil app”) and Patagonia’s request not to buy its jacket unless you really need it (“Don’t buy this jacket”). I guess most people will go with Amazon this year, but the good news is that it looks like the gap between the two will get narrower this year, so there’s still hope in relationship.

4. The Imperative of Sustainable Brand Innovation

“In 2012, sustainable brands large and small will increasingly connect consumers, brand teams, suppliers and subject-matter experts in the innovation process to embed sustainability and social purpose into every business strategy, product design and stakeholder relationship.”

If companies want to grow their business and reduce their footprint at the same time, their best shot is innovation. Therefore companies will continue to seek innovative solutions that offer benefits for both consumers and their (triple) bottom line. We will see also efforts of companies not just to innovate, but also to position themselves as innovative companies to enhance their brands and attract more customers.

5. The Evolution from Occupy to Engage

“If the most emblematic word of 2011 was “occupy,” we believe the word of 2012 will be “engage.” In 2012, there is good reason to believe that sustainable brands can lead the way.”

Given that 2012 is an election year, the ‘occupy’ theme won’t vanish so fast, especially if one of the candidates will be with tight connections to Wall-Street. Nevertheless, I believe that consumers will continue to voice their concerns in various ways, enabling companies that want to become sustainable leaders to transform protest into engagement opportunities. One example is Facebook’s new clean energy policy, which came following Greenpeace’s Unfriend coal campaign that attracted 700,000 participants.

6. Apps are the new sustainable brands promoters

As my colleague Bill Roth reported here, “the green app is emerging as the “gun” of the Green Economic Revolution that consumers are firing right at the heart of a business’s competitiveness.” With smartphones and tablets becoming so common, apps have become an increasingly important tool for sustainable brands to promote themselves. This is a place where creativity, innovation and engagement can be combined to create a real added value for consumers, and companies will increase their efforts in 2012 to make the most out of it.

7. Further collaboration between companies and consumers

Bemporad mentioned it on the first trend, but I thought it should get a separate mention. Co-creation will continue to grow in 2012, as companies understand the value of collaboration with consumers in the idea generation phase, while consumers are happy to engage with companies on the design level and not just on the consumption level. The latest FutureScapes project, which was created by Sony and Forum for the Future, provides such an example with the public asked to explore the opportunities and challenges of life in 2025, and to consider the potential contribution that technology and entertainment can make in shaping a better, more sustainable future.

We will also see more collaboration between companies which understand that in many cases the benefit from such collaboration is higher than the cost. One example that Jen Boynton reported on is that retailers “will continue to share best practices “to address pressing social and environmental issues, such as managing product lifecycle impacts, human rights concerns in the supply chain, and the safety of products.”

[Image credit: uusc4all, Flickr Creative Commons]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

6 responses

  1. Raz, a thought provoking and insightful analysis of the consumer led, technology enabled shift toward a sustainable economy that aligns value and values.

  2. Raz – your seven points are spot on!  As Executive-in-Residence at IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland, I currently work on distilling 40 years of experience into learnable lessons for executive education.  You eloquently describe much of what I try to share. With respect for your insights and kind regards, – Nadine

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