Katie Pascoe (BA(Hons), CIM, MBA, PGD/tgem FHEA)
Business is first and foremost “an organ of society,” and generating profit is not the defining purpose of business, but rather it is creating value for the customer (Drucker, 1973). Organizations of any type - be they private, public or non-profit - are tools that society has created, whereby its needs are met through a process of exchange (Hooley, Piercy, Nicoulaud and Rudd, 2017). Peter Drucker’s (1958, p. 252) view: “Marketing is … the process through which economy is integrated into society to serve human needs”, implies that organizations are not ends in themselves but are rather tools created by citizens in society to meet their needs. Therefore, it follows that the aim of business should be the creation of value and long-term sustainable satisfaction for its customers and stakeholders. The stakeholder view suggests that profitability is a necessary - but not the sole - measure of a firm’s performance. If marketing is indeed the quintessential social practice of postmodern consumer culture (Firat, 1993; Firat & Dholakia, 2006), it then also carries the burden of determining the conditions and meaning of life in the future (Firat & Venkatesh, 1993). Marketing plays a key role in giving meaning to life through consumption (Van Raaij, 1993). As an objective in business, sustainability needs to be understood and translated into the “triple bottom line” obligation, where the measure of business results ought to consider people, planet and profit. Sheth et al. (2011), in their seminal work, criticized current methods of business sustainability practices as lacking a focus on the consumer, ignoring rising unsustainable global overconsumption and lacking a holistic approach.
Consumption-dominated life-styles or "mindless consumption" practices are shown to be detrimental to personal happiness, quality mental health, financial security, and lasting well-being (Quelch & Jocz, 2007). Consumers' choices, behaviours, and lifestyles—their consumption decisions—play a vital role in operationalizing the sustainability mandate (Jackson & Michaelis, 2003). In line with Bahl, Milne, Ross, Mick (2016) this paper argues that many of contemporary citizens’ consumption decisions are a result of mindlessness - compulsivity, habits, addictions, and compulsions. This research further argues that modernized western culture over the last century with its incessant promises of pleasure, happiness, and non-stop distractions along with profit maximization being the primary driver of business is disturbingly responsible for perpetuating mindlessness in its citizens. In other words, the stress-inducing, isolating, lack of true connectedness, materialistic culture is, in part, responsible for many of today's mental and physical health problems not to mention mass environmental problems.
This study attempts to make a unique contribution to the mindfulness and sustainable consumption literature through a phenomenological case study investigation. Sustainable consumption research (SCR) has shown that consumption behaviours are, to a significant extent, shaped by routines and habits (Fischer and Hanley, 2007, Schäfer et al., 2012) and embedded in broader social practices (Spaargaren, 2003) that entail often unquestioned conventional, or “normal,” standards for consumption behaviours (Shove, 2003). Prevailing materialistic social practices which are built on an economic model of perpetual growth and unlimited resources may be the status quo however it is leaving citizens, communities and the planet far short of well-being and good health. Through bringing mindless consumption, materialism and the concept of mindfulness to the fore, this study reviews, extends and integrates theoretical perspectives relevant to the pursuit of encouraging greater sustainability consumption practices among citizens—namely mindful consumption (MC) as proposed by Sheth et al., (2011), Bahl et al., (2016) and Fisher et al., (2017). This study is the researcher’s attempt to generate new knowledge and insight about the topic by integrating multi-discliplianry research using qualitative research techniques.
I am currently an MSc candidate in International Strategic Marketing at the University of Northampton in the UK. My research interests include prosocial consumption, mindful consumption, biopsychosocial perspective, globalization, customer-centric sustainability, integrated strategic marketing communications, and digital and social transformation. Organizations that balance profit and purpose and consider a triple bottom line mandate (people, planet, profit) will be in a better position to redefine success in business through building a more inclusive and sustainable economy that supports health and vitality in its citizens.
After 15 years of writing ad copy, designing graphical communications, building integrated marketing campaigns and creating digital footprints for organizations I finally acknowledged an inner conflict - marketing and advertising was significantly responsible for the drive to overconsume contributing to the pressing problems of our society and planet. Convincing and persuading people to consume - that emotional needs can be satisfied through consumption - became an unremitting and untrue disconnect for me. Correlating material goods, including technology, to consumers' non-material desires ensures that people are never satisfied with what they have. Convincing people that they are not enough and do not have enough meant I was contributing to the harm. The marketing and advertising industry in the past 50 years has been based on a growth model with several unexamined assumptions: that there are unlimited resources and that business has consumers' best interests at heart.
As a senior marketor with a background in pyschology I am pressed to consider how marketing influences society and its citizens and how business can be used as a powerful force for good instead of harm. Therefore, recasting the sustainability concept to represent, in a practical way, people, planet and profit. Business success in the coming decades will depend on the ability to negotiate both social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. On the societal level, we must understand that human and planatary health and well-being is not an individual outcome, but is an interplay of family, community and the culture in which the individual exists. Not only does a stressful culture with stressed out individuals negatively affect health, it actually impacts and changes people’s physiology and nervous system. In other words, people’s health is highly influenced by the surrounding culture and the people in it. “A culture can be toxic or nourishing,” writes Thom Hartmann.
This research, cross-disciplinary in nature, is a direct response to the pressing environmental issues and the increasing ills that western society is having on its citizens. The seemingly most “successful” society in the world - the US, is witnessing 50% of the adult population suffering from stress-related chronic illness (heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, autoimmune diseases and addictions including psychological related problems like depression and anxiety) in the last decade alone (Mate, 2011). Now, more than ever, consumers are waking up when it comes to their consumption decisions.