“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” — Mahatma Gandhi, lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist
“You can count on the Universe to always deliver what you need, but understand what you need will not always be what you want.” ― Clyde Lee Dennis, entrepreneur and self-improvement expert
In a novel, the best-written villains don’t stand around clapping their hands and gleefully proclaiming, “Oh, I’m so evil!” No, they inevitably have a reason for what they do, and the reasons make sense to them.
Most people don’t think they are materialistic. They believe they need all the stuff they have. And that’s why people have so much stuff.
Where Does All This Stuff Come From?
In many affluent areas of the United States, you’ll often see garages overflowing with so much stuff that there’s no room for the family cars. Marie Kondo has become a household name and a multi-million-dollar industry all by herself, just by helping people learn to throw away their stuff.
Growing Home Sizes
Consider this. In 1950, the average size of a new home in the United States was 983 square feet. By 2017, the average new home was 2,631 square feet in size—about 1,035 square feet per person—with each person having more than the entire size of a typical new home in the 1950s.
And it’s not just a US problem. Several studies show that Australia has the largest home sizes in the world, as shown by the graph below.
Source: The Globe and Mail
In the 1950s, households in the United Kingdom were austere by today’s standards. While most homes had a cooker, a vacuum cleaner, and a plug-in radio, fewer than 33% had a clothes washing machine. Only 15% had a fridge, and only 10% had a telephone. Today, the average house size in the UK is 104 square meters, and the average new house in 2016 was 13% larger than the average existing house.
The average woman in the UK uses 16 beauty products every day, spending on average £482 per year. American women use 11. Chinese consumers are expected to overtake them both by 2023, as beauty sales in China grew by 12.9% in 2018.
According to The World Bank, worldwide CO2 emissions in 1960 were 393.19 metric tons per capita. Nepal created the least at .007 metric tons per capita, but Nepal has little manufacturing, and much of that is agrarian.
By 2014, the global per capita CO2 was 1,213.17 metric tons. Qatar contributed the most at 43.85 metric tons per capita. As manufacturers, we must strive to reduce our impact on CO2, on landfills and on water in every corner of the world.
The point of this data is not to make any person, country, home or automobile owner feel bad. Or feel good, for that matter. It’s simply to show that changing expectations have a major effect on sustainability.
Rising Expectations of Consumption
Our brains are wired for consumption, and if you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, consumption and acquisition are part of every level of human need. Food, water and warmth are primary human needs, followed by safety and security. Belongingness, esteem and self-actualization are also at the top of the pyramid. We intrinsically need objects that fulfill these needs, whether that takes the form of a cheeseburger, a prestige lipstick, a new car, or a set of oil paints. And all these items can be manufactured and distributed to meet our consumer demand, but to ensure the Earth’s survival, the manufacturing must be done sustainably.
Sustainability is the Responsibility of Each Manufacturer
A single company can’t control the world’s expectations and sustainability, or even the expectations and sustainability of a single country. All any company can do is control its own actions, and each company needs to consider the ramifications of its actions.
Has your company done all it can to reduce its carbon footprint? Are emissions as low as possible? Are you finding ways to reduce or eliminate unnecessary packaging? Do you reuse shipping containers and materials where possible? Sometimes taking the sustainability path isn’t convenient, but it is even less convenient when trash ends up in the ocean and harms our fragile ecosystem.