Following last week’s lecture on customer cost I was reminded of “The Story of Stuff” video and its assertion that the costs that we as consumers see is far from the societal costs. It would seem to me that there is somewhere that “costs” are grossly underestimated by both firms and consumers. In many ways I would argue it is the flawed system of attributing cost that leads to over-consumption and many of the resource and environmental issues that follow.
Efforts like governmental regulations, ISO regulations and certifications help to internalize some of the previously unrecognized societal costs. With regards to sustainability I don’t think we go far enough. At least in the sense that sustainability means that future generations will be able to maintain the current consumer society. I think that there exists too much complexity and within this an inherent inability to understand all the costs that current production or consumption causes. Unrecognized costs exist in both the present and in the long-run making it even harder to fully grasp the consequences and what may be a “sustainable cost” for something like a litre of gasoline. Such a cost would have to take into account associated costs of future scarcity, costs associated with climate change, environmental degradation, adverse health effects due to pollution and so on. I recognize that such a system of pricing is completely unreasonable due to the inability to fully recognize the consequences of any given action, especially in the long term. However, if it was possible to present value future costs and include them in the costs of products how might this lead to truly sustainable consumption?