Yesterday I was a panelist at the "Chasing the Green Pound" event hosted by Grayling's Future Planet team. It was a strong line-up with Ramon Arratia from Interface, Per Bogstad of Rainforest Alliance, Esther Maughan McLachlan of Sony Europe and yours truly, all chaired by Jo Cofino who heads up Guardian Sustainable Business.

Here are some of the points I took away with me:

  • The archetypal green consumer  who will compromise on price and/or performance to 'save the planet' remains in a minority;
  • Retailers are doing the heavy lifting on behalf of the consumer by demanding good quality greener mainstream products from suppliers;
  • They do this for overall brand enhancement rather than to target green consumers per se;
  • Green product producers love legislation that penalises their less enlightened competition;
  • Product labels like the EU energy label can drive consumer buying patterns, but they need rapid updating to keep ahead of technology;
  • Long life products require new business models - Sony are actively investigating the concept of a 'multi-functional digital device for life' and what business model might support it;
  • In terms of changing how consumers use products, we have limited bandwidth to communicate with them and should use it wisely;
  • Nudge techniques may help - making greener behaviour the easier path eg a washing machine that defaults to a cooler wash cycle rather than sticking with the temperature of the previous wash;
  • Consumer resistance may provide business opportunities - the example was given of a company that empties lofts for free (and makes cash out of selling the contents) - this is one of the barriers to improving domestic insulation.

At the end, Jo asked us to look forward and predict future trends in consumer behaviour. I suggested that the shift from owning huge amounts of media (books, CDs, DVDs) to accessing the data directly (ebooks, MP3s, movies on demand) was eroding the 'status of stuff' - our bizarre pride in the wall of books/CDs/DVDs in the living room - and this may open all sorts of opportunities for mainstreaming lightweight and/or collaborative consumption such as Spotify, ZipCar, Airbnb etc. On a grand scale, this would free us to enjoy the experiences we are used to with a fraction of the ecological footprint of the physical product-based economy.

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