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The personal and social sides of Sustainability

* Marcos Gouvêa de Souza, CEO, GS&MD – Gouvêa de Souza

Even in the most mature societies and in the well informed segments, the
Sustainability concept still has a blurred perception. For the average consumer,
the issue is even more complex and there is no single understanding of the

This has been an element clearly emerging from the several researches on
Sustainability and present in the studies GS&MD – Gouvêa de Souza and the
Ebeltoft Group are developing in 17 countries to evaluate and compare how
consumers relate to Sustainability and their shopping attitudes. This will also be
the main theme of the 13th Latin American Retail Forum, in São Paulo, in late

For the Metaconsumers (the digital, multichannel and global consumers, who
are more and more conscious on their shopping behavior), there are two
dimmensions interacting: the individual and the social ones. This way, they
shape a scenario in which consumers are concerned with more than the
economic benefit of the purchase of goods and services, with some level of
concern on Conscious Spending and Sustainability.

In the social side, more related to more mature economies and more educated
segments, conscious and with more purchasing power, the level of concern
goes beyond individual benefits. Among the issues more debated are the
environment, preservation of nature, the end of natural resources, sensibility to
conscious spending and concerns on manufacturing, distribution, recycling and
broader impacts on the environment.

It is in this social side the heated discussions are, once many societies who
have depleted their natural resources on the quest for better life conditions and
an improved economic level now demand a different attitude, more careful and
focused on preservation, from other countries, even if this mean a slower
economic growth.

But these developed societies are only willing to invest small amounts to offset
this burden on the emerging countries. In some cases, they even deny to look
critically their own reality and do not create more restrictive laws to stop the
destruction process, as it brings heavy political consequences.

In the social dimensions are the hottest debates, the more mediatic speeches,
the biggest issues and public discussions and the challenges to achieve a
consensus that may lead to a representative evolution. Simply because there is
a huge political and economic cost to adopt these measures. And the US
approach to the Kyoto Protocol maybe is the clearest case.

But in the individual dimmension the scenario is different. A much more dinamic
process, with faster maturement, as the benefits are closer and the decisions
depend on one person alone. In this case, changes happen faster, as guided for
the Perception-Understanding-Measuring-Action cycle, defined by market rules.

Identified an emerging feeling in one group of consumers, companies try to

understand the reasons for it, the consequences, measure and evaluate the
market size and, when it pays off, there are created goods, brands, services,
solutions, concepts and communications launched in the market on an ongoing
basis, in a continuous flow of product launches to try to be alligned to
consumer’s demands.

If the issue is fat, a bunch of low-fat goods. If consumers are concerned on

carbs, new formulas are developed and released. If the issue is a healthier life,
new goods and services, from magazines to fitness centers, from courses to TV
shows, from travel to consulting.

If quality of life is one of the hot issues, books, articles, speeches, in company
initiatives, software, training, counseling and coaching starts being offered to
address the new concerns.

If the sun has become the villain of the hour, clothes, cosmetics, treatments,
protective goods, equipment and exams balance the situation. If food is the
concern, organic goods become an alternative to answer to it, and there are
developed and launched on and on, allow winner concepts to arise, as is the
case of Whole Foods in the US, one of the supermarket chains with the
strongest growth rates, just for this strategy of emphasizing organics.

If the swine flu, the Asian flu or the mad cow disease have become concerns,
one needs to track goods to assure quality and health of what has been offered,
from the farm on, guaranteed by the brands that offer these goods.

In the individual dimmension, decisions are made using the perception of value
and benefit, plus the available income at that time. And the market has been
moving on to don’t let wishes unserved, going faster than regulations, policies
or laws and making it much more dynamic, based almost only in market rules.

But not only by that. Many times, governments act on their regulation role and,
alligned to collective demands, define rules that deeply change the market, as
when restricting advertising of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages or fast food for

The individual dimmension has been growing faster than the social one, that
relies much more on the collective and on regulations to evolve. It makes
perceptions related to Sustainability, in consumer’s view, much more present in
all that brings in consumers individually and much less on what depends on the
whole society.