Due to advances in medicine and the public’s growing understanding of how to take care of themselves, global life expectancy has risen by six years over the past three decades. Whilst this is undeniably positive, it puts additional pressure on businesses to re-evaluate how they use resources to produce products.
According to Accenture, the resource-dependant models relied upon by many organizations are not sustainable. Demand has basically outstripped supply, and if the world’s population continues to increase at the rate it has, we’re going to run out of resources.
By the time 2050 comes around, it’s predicted that there will be an additional 1 million people on earth. Around 450 million people were lifted out of poverty too, all culminating in a lot more demand, and a lot fewer resources with which to satisfy it. To compound this even further, Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, states that it currently takes 18 months to produce what the world consumes in 12.
So what can companies do to help reduce this deficit?
Much of it is about investing in new technology that can use resources in a more efficient manner. This has lowered fuel consumption, but decoupling, defined by Accenture as ‘the process of breaking the links between economic growth and environmental degradation’, is still a problem, with total resource consumption continuing to grow.
But there are reasons to be optimistic. Public attitudes are changing for the better, especially in developed countries, and this is half the battle. For example, 72% of Europeans are prepared to meet premium prices for green goods and 80% of people in emerging markets feel more comfortable dealing with socially responsible brands.
Being more resource efficient is advantageous for companies. It makes new markets more accessible, creating new avenues for revenue streams, whilst a leaner supply chain cuts costs by reducing waste and time to market. In an article in the Guardian, Justin Keeble uses clothing brand, Patagonia, as an example of a company that’s profiting from a more efficient use of resources;
‘Patagonia asks consumers to match its pledges to reuse, repair and recycle products before buying a new one. In doing so, what it loses through more sustainably-conscious purchases it wins through greater customer loyalty.’
A shift in the public’s perception of sustainability is valuable, but it’s likely that we’ll see people’s true opinions when prices are challenged. In China, for example, its growing wealth has drawn mainly to Western goods. Yet according to Peggy Liu the Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy department, the ‘American dream’ isn’t an attainable vision if China wants to champion sustainability. Whether this creates tension is yet to be seen, but it will be a good indicator of how people truly feel about resource efficiency.
The world’s growing population necessitates that a sustainable approach to resources is carried out at a global, national and company level. Everyone must contribute, otherwise we’re not going to be able to consume the products we love in the same way.