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Is Less More? New Marketing Metrics in the Age of Environmentalism

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Chad Reese

Are people happier now than they were 50 years ago?

A Worldwatch Institute article titled Rethinking the Good Life reports an interesting trend: over the last century, the happiness of people living in rich countries is no longer connected to increased income. However, research also suggests rising incomes of people in less wealthy countries may still heavily influence their happiness. This intuitively makes sense: in less-developed countries, more individual income means more basic needs met. But what happens after life’s necessities are provided?

Interestingly, according to Robert Putnam, Harvard professor of public policy, happiness is determined by social interactions. Putnam reports for various reasons a person with less social connections has more chances of dying or being locked in a poverty trap.  As social animals, people crave context and acceptance, and without it we’re miserable.

But what is happiness? And how can it be measured?

Many entities have proposed indices to complement the gross domestic product (GDP), a traditional economic indicator that measures the market value of all the final goods and service produced in a country. The Wellbeing Index, a GDP complement created by sustainability consultant Robert Prescott-Allen with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IRDC), uses 87 different indicators including life expectancy and environmental factors to determine human well-being. On another front, “Happiness economics” is an academic discipline that attempts to quantify happiness by merging psychology and sociology with economics to maximize happiness measures over the financial bottom line. It turns out important Happiness economics measures of well-being include working less and leading a more simplified life. And the consumer trend of “downshifting” – of people choosing to simplify their lives – has environmental benefits as well: less stuff made and distributed means less energy and materials usage.

So how do you market a product or service to a person choosing a life less cluttered?

When Bhutan, the nation with the Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) index, decided not to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), it was for reasons of happiness. Bhutan concluded joining the WTO – the international organization that administers rules of trade between nations – would jeopardize their happiness.  And Michael Jay Polonsky, author of “Transformative green marketing: Impediments and opportunities,” might agree with Bhutan.

Polonsky calls marketers’ collective failure to improve the quality of consumers’ lives a result of not integrating macro-marketing and micro-marketing perspectives. Nature and its inhabitants will all be better off, Polonsky concludes, if marketing calculates and communicates value including environmental aspects, a focus on education on the “human-environment interface” and an emphasis on “want satisfaction” over acquisition and accumulation of goods.

That’s a big objective, but can the chain be broken? Is it realistic to think that marketers can satisfy a range of human wants without perpetuating the cycle of goods and services production, distribution and consumption?

If it’s possible, what do you think that would look like?

Chad Reese is currently an MBA candidate in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. Follow Chad on Twitter.

Want to learn more about Presidio and this project? Click here.

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