Where and how do we set the line for mindful consumption?

Since consumption is not just a major determinant of personal, social and economic wellbeing but also the cause for direct and indirect environmental damage, Seth et al. in their paper “Mindful Consumption: A Customer Centric Approach to Sustainability” suggest that consumers should be the center of the sustainability agenda. They introduce the concept of customer-centric sustainability (CCS) and propose the concept of mindful consumption (MC) as the guiding focus of the CSS approach. According to them “customer-centric sustainability refers to the consumption mediated impact of marketing actions on environmental, personal and economic well-being of the consumer.” And they define mindful consumption as a consumption that “connotes temperance in acquisitive, repetitive and aspirational consumption at the behavior level, ensuing from and reinforced by a mindset that reflects a sense of caring toward self, community, and nature.”  

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One of the economic rationale presented by authors for promoting CCS is that over-marketing reduces the profitability, that most of the profit comes from a small subset of customers and a substantial proportion of customers are unprofitable. I think this argument is valid only at the industry level and not at company level perspective. For example, when Coke is marketing its products it does so without knowing the point where they will begin to face the marginal customer that starts to decrease the profitability. And there are competitors such as Pepsi who are marketing without knowing that marginal customer as well. This makes both the companies to face the typical “game theory” situation where they do not want to lose that additional profitable customer and go on continuing their marketing to the point where it becomes over marketing.   Since the threshold of optimal marketing is not known beforehand it is also a risk for a company to lose its marginal profitable customer to its competitor just because they failed to market. Since marketing decisions are made at individual company level and every company wants to push their limit to reach out each marginally profitable customer over-marketing is bound to happen.

 From practical point of view the definition of MC that the authors provide indirectly promotes a very ascetic lifestyle. Idea of promoting temperance in consumption behavior might be good for the environment but from a company’s point of view it is as if you are cutting off the branch that you are sitting on. If people were to nurture the true essence of mindful consumption, they would have to actively avoid what has been the norm of their daily life. Products and services other than the ones necessary for survival might become obsolete. Let’s take Coca Cola itself, if this company was to practice CCS marketing they would have to actually stop selling their products because they are more prone to health hazards and environmental degradation than the benefits. Similar logic of cost-benefit analysis focusing on mindful consumption can be extended to many of the products and services that we use in our daily life. In absence of any best technologically enhanced alternative that reduces the negative impact of our consumption habit the best alternative for such products and services would be to reduce or stop their use. In the context where increasing number of people are aspiring to take the path of consumerism it is also a challenge to come up to an optimization that sets the best consumption habits. What people in Europe define as the best consumption habit might not be the same as what the Chinese or Indian think is the best, and the ethical issues associated with this ambiguity might itself be a problem for the companies.    

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