Expectations and reflections on first lectures

Upon learning about the Sustainability Marketing and Consumption course I was very interested to take it as it seemed to be very different from anything I have taken before. I  am studying at the school of business in Calgary, Canada and there are no course offered on sustainability. I have taken a number of different marketing courses and have a good understanding of the traditional rhetoric on what marketing is and how it delivers benefits to firms and consumers. Sustainability as a subject in an academic setting is something that I have yet to explore. However I feel that it is something that is lacking from my education as it is a major issue.

 

I have always personally felt a level of skepticism as to whether or not marketing and consumption in the current business environment adequately provides societal benefit. For me, the terms sustainability and marketing and consumption are almost contradictory in nature. The first lecture brought to light some questions for me based on what I see as the disconnect between sustainability and marketing.

 

Firstly, I felt that starting the lectures with a brief look at the rise of consumer culture was  and interesting place to start the topic and gets to the core of the contradiction I see. In my opinion consumer culture represents a clearly unsustainable drive to attain more and more. It’s this culture that gives rise to the function of marketing to fuel further consumption. It is in this way that I perceive much of the consumption that exists in western societies and the role that marketing has. From this I would argue that marketing and consumption in their present form are inherently unsustainable. I am hoping that this course can change this view and help to show how marketing can be pursued in a more sustainable manner.

 

The second question that the course material raised for me was based on the definition of Sustainable Development. In the course notes it was defined as follows: ”Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Upon looking at this more closely after the lecture I was wondering who the definition refers to. Whose needs? My travels over the past few years to lesser developed regions around the world has made me acutely aware of the differences in what people around the world “need.” If the definition can’t apply to everyone, do we marginalize the needs of certain groups in the pursuit of our own?

 

I look forward to learning about how sustainability can exist in a practical sense and I hope this course can help to reconcile some of the differences I see between sustainability and consumer culture.

 

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3 comments
  1. lottaliuksiala said:

    Thanks for a well argued reflection on the first lecture! I completely agree on many of the points. The vague definition of sustainability is definitely an issue that doesn’t go away no matter how many years you spend studying on sustainability issues.

    I think it was Franz that stated on the lecture that we must never forget the dark side of marketing. There is a huge controversy between current marketing practices and sustainable lifestyle. This can indeed lead to skepticism towards “go green” type of marketing communication. There are huge issues like Co2 remaining unsolved decade after decade and compared to these issues, campaigns like “the earth hour” seem more like a band aid for our guilty consciences than a real solution for sustainable future.

    Nevertheless, I think that there is a way forward. There has to be. It might be just baby steps and band aids but in time these things may grow bigger and bigger in scale. Once the effects of climate change really start to affect our livelihoods, there will be a need for a new kind of consumption culture. It may require a catastrophe to make us actually change our behavior but it is bound to happen in time.

    Also, I believe that marketing can be developed from it’s origins as a driver for excessive consumption to become a tool to promote more sustainable lifestyles. Although there will always be the dark side of the moon, marketing practices are also used in for example anti-smoking campaigns or other public health promotions. Marketing is just a tool, it is up to us to decide what it is used for.

  2. Sharp observations from both of you. My attention was drawn to two things especially: Taylor’s question of “who” in sustainability, and Lotta’s band aid metaphor for events like Earth Hour. The “who” question is particularly important, and possibly touched upon at some point during the course. Bobby Banerjee asked the same question in his 2003 article “Who Sustains Whose Development? Sustainable Development and the Reinvention of Nature”, implying it is the Western world order that is being sustained (he has continued this line of thinking in his later work, including the much-cited “Corporate Social Responsibility: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in 2008). At one seminar speech he also implied that the only sustainability that takes place is the so-called developing countries that are sustaining our lifestyle. But like everything else, take Banerjee’s texts with a pinch of salt. Still, I recommend checking his stuff out just for a highly critical perspective. It’s very readable but also somewhat daunting.

    Concerning Lotta’s response, the band-aid metaphor is a useful one here, as that’s exactly what I consider Earth Hour to be. Very small, very insignificant things that rarely change anyone’s behavior but make people feel good about themselves. Someone else noted that changing one’s everyday routines such as water use is extremely difficult, for behavioral and institutional reasons among others. And it is precisely this everyday living that is much more important than one-off events and the like.

    Jukka

  3. angelinakt said:

    Very nice reflection on the lecture material. It’s great that from the very beginning you pinpointed the most important question for this course: are marketing and sustainability compatible? There is so much controversy around this, it is not a question you can answer in one sentence. The goal of the course is exactly to raise discussion about this: we will provide some concrete examples of sustainability marketing, and it will be up to the students to analyze and see whether these cases reconcile marketing and sustainability. What we aim to give the course participants is two perspectives: sustainability marketing and its tools, and sustainable consumption and its challenges. Towards the end of the course we try to bring these two perspectives together and have more discussions about whether the former can help the latter.

    You might like to check out already now the article by Peattie & Crane (2005) “Green marketing: legend, myth, farce or prophesy?” (article package). It is about green marketing (and not sustainability marketing), but I think you’ll find it interesting to go over the failures of green marketing since its very start in the early 90s.

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