Sustainable Marketing: An Overview
uring humankind's recorded history, extensive and sophisticated consumption systems have evolved to meet the needs of the earth's human population. When the population was small, the activities involved in providing the food, clothing, housing, and other products (goods and services) demanded by people left virtually no "footprint" of pollution in the air or on the land, freshwater bodies, or oceans. But with world population now estimated at approximately 6.0 billion and expected to surge to between 7.7 billion and 11.2 billion by the year 2050 (Robinson 1998:7), the damage inflicted by consumption on the earth's ecosystems has become a world-class issue. The question is, "How do we manage consumption processes to continue to meet the needs of people while also preventing the devastation of our basic lifesupport sy stems ?"
Why Sustainable M a r k e t i n g — N o w ?
In The Ecology of Commerce, Hawken (1993) places the major responsibility for addressing this question squarely on business corporations. He notes, "Corporations, because they are the dominant institution on the planet, must squarely address the social and environmental problems that afflict humankind" (p. xiii) and "Business has three issues to face: what it takes, what it makes, and what it wastes" (p. 12). "What it takes" refers to the material and
energy resources that are removed from the earth's ecosystems through mining, extracting, cutting, growing, hunting, and other means. "What it makes" represents the products of commerce, goods and services, that are derived from those resources through industrial conversion-transformation processes. "What it wastes" represents eco-costs, defined here as the collective costs to businesses, customers, and societies of cultural garbage/waste, pollution, and the ongoing destruction of natural systems, which are the consequences of taking and making processes. A closer examination of taking, making, and wasting leads to an inescapable conclusion: these issues describe marketing activities and the effects of those activities on ecosystems. Ignoring the ramifications of taking, making, and wasting leads to unacceptable outcomes, as demonstrated by two articles from the respected National Geographic. In "The U.S.S.R.'s Lethal Legacy," Edwards (1994) presents a startling and damning scenario of unspeakable environmental pollution and human birth defects that has occurred in the former Soviet Union, a result of decades of industrial activity taking place in the total absence of environmental laws, policies, ethics, and common sense. Similarly, in "Exploiting the Ocean's Bounty: Diminishing Returns," Parfit (1995) chronicles the practices leading to the relentless decline of the last major resource that humans "take" by hunting in the wild—the fisheries of the world. For example, the "taking" of 1 pound of marketable seafood by high-technology commercial fleets also nets 4 pounds of "by-catch" (p. 19), that is, unwanted species and organisms that are destroyed and then returned to the sea, all in the name of efficiency. As he sadly reports,
The unthinkable has come to pass. The wealth of oceans, once deemed inexhaustible, has proven finite, and fish, once dubbed "the poor man's protein," have become a resource coveted—and fought over—by nations.... "We've come to a day of reckoning," says one marine scientist. "The next ten years are going to be very painful, full of upheaval for everyone connected to the sea." (p. 2)
These examples and many others, ranging from highly publicized global tragedies (e.g., the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Bhopal chemical poisonings) to local issues (e.g., the need for curbside recycling programs to stem the avalanche of consumer garbage), are symptoms of a fundamental flaw in business practice—our disregard of ecosystems. All send the same message: the time for action is now.
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