Customer convenience is not only influenced on the micro scale by companies trying to come up with ever better solutions to make life easier. There is also the underlying macro dimension of current societal and physical (infra-)structures, which often heavily favour unsustainable behaviour and products. These were mostly developed during the time of plenty in the second half of the 20th century, when energy was abundant and the hunger of everlasting economic growth unquestioned. During these decades, thousands of kilometers of roads were built, making it possible (and, indeed, more convenient) to build homes scattered over the landscape. Forms of packaging were introduced which were not only cheap, but easy to use and to dispose, without regard for the resulting waste and resource use.
At the same time, unquestioned unsustainable behaviours became so normal, that people who were willing to live lower-impact lives were considered strange, funny outsiders. Both these infrastructural and societal developments (not to mention policy decisions such as fossil fuel subsidies) make it much harder today to reduce one’s impact compared to living with a large footprint.
Customer convenience is not only a big issue for sustainability marketing, but also for conventional marketing. For decades convenience has been one of the main drivers of product development, creating a never-ending wealth of innovations. And because it is such an important topic in mainstream marketing, sustainability marketing becomes more difficult if its main focus lies on convenience, as there is no level playing field. As long as current societal norms and infrastructures favour unsustainable practices, sustainability marketing will be at a disadvantage compared to normal marketing. Especially in terms of cost but also regarding the availability of marketing instruments or distribution channels (it is for instance less advisable to use thousands of paper flyers to advertise a product if one wants to reduce waste) will sustainability marketers have to do a better jobs than their conventional colleagues to yield similar results.
In my opinion, it is therefore important for them to be able to fetch premiums on their products from those willing to pay for it (i.e. LOHAS) in order to make up for the ground (money) lost in the production phase. For only if the company is able to reinvest sufficient funds into product development will it be able to remain competitive in terms of product convenience and other decisive “hard” buying factors. And this in turn is necessary in order to continue to attract substantial amounts of sustainability-indifferent customers needed to generate significant impact.
One possible conclusion that can be drawn from this argumentation is the following:
Should you decide to focus your sustainability marketing on another selling proposition than sustainability itself (e.g. convenience or usefulness), then it might make sense to create two product lines, one for LOHAS willing to pay a premium and a cheaper line lacking some non-essential features which targets the mass market which is unfortunately often still indifferent towards sustainability. Thereby, by remaining competitive in the long run, the third dimension of lasting economic success can be served.