Today’s consumers are at a crossroads, with more and more young people reassessing what it means to lead a ‘good life’, how they value material possessions and how they spend their free time. It would seem that possessing wealth and constantly demanding more and more is becoming an outdated measure of success.

That is certainly the view of a new report published by the car maker Ford, which suggests that happiness is the new wealth, especially for those in India, Germany and China (82 per cent, 78 per cent and 77 per cent respectively). 

Flashing the cash is no longer cool and 71 per cent of people globally say they define prosperity differently from their parents with many caring a lot less about material possessions than they did in the past.

Meanwhile, high-paying jobs and fancy eateries are losing their shine too, with young people trading Wall Street for non-profits or working out of food trucks and shunning Michelin-star restaurants for healthy cooking tours. Also, time traditionally seen as being ‘wasted’ is now seen as time well spent; some 57 per cent of adults around the world say sleeping is a productive use of time (amen), followed closely by surfing the internet (54 per cent). Procrastination, once the enemy of productivity, is seen – at least by 63 per cent of those in India – as an aid to being more creative or productive.

Yes, our attitudes are changing. And it transcends into the way we purchase things. First, the burgeoning sharing economy – trading ownership for access – reflects a trend for ‘less is more’, or making the most of what’s already there.

Then, according to TrendWatching’s five consumer trends for 2017, there’s a new angle on sustainability, and that’s ‘capacity capture’. The eco-friendliness of your products is now presumed; finding exciting new sources of value is the new black.

Take Nissan’s 2016 scheme allowing UK vehicle owners of the Nissan LEAF and e-NV200 electric van to sell their surplus energy in back to the grid – by plugging into vehicle-to-grid systems around the country.

Then there’s the example of the city of Cape Town’s online portal known as the Integrated Waste Exchange (IWEX) for individuals and organisations to trade and recycle waste items, from tyres to computers.

Meanwhile, food bank Banco de Alimentos in São Paulo says that despite most Brazilians being willing to donate food, only 17 per cent do. They came up with the concept of ‘reverse delivery’ to make use of all those empty-handed delivery drivers who’ve dropped off their food, effectively bringing the food collection point to customers’ doorstep. Donated food returns to the restaurant and is then picked up by the food bank.

Of course, there are plenty of pockets of activity designed to cater for the growing number of self-aware consumers willing to shift their buying habits. But it will still likely take a Titanic-sized turn to move way from our status as super consumers. And as Forum for the Future’s consumer futures 2020 report notes, the planet can’t afford to wait too much longer.

Gazing in to the now not-too-distant future, the non-profit imagines four plausible scenarios for tomorrow’s consumers: ‘My way’; ‘Sell it to me’; ‘From me to you’; and ‘I’m in your hands’.

These are based on two trends – whether society will be prosperous or not, and whether consumers will take the initiative, or expect brands to do it for them.

The ‘My way’ mainstream consumers of 2020 are keeping it local, in a climate where vertical farming is the norm and personal energy micro-managers make sustainable living high tech and easy. If you open the fridge, you’ll find packaging that refrigerates and changes colour if the food has gone off.

Brands and businesses are the ones making it easy in the ‘Sell it to me’ scenario, where smart products and services replace unsustainable products. Why change your life when brands can do it for you? For breakfast, you’ll be eating cereal personalised for your nutritional needs.

Hyper local is the name of the game in the ‘From me to you’ scenario, with products sought as directly as possible. Good exchanges, recycling and re-use are common place, as is selling surplus food and growing your own hemp.

Say goodbye to brand loyalty. The leasing model champions in the ‘I’m in your hands’ scenario, with retailers and brands not only leasing goods, but also providing heat, water and nutrition. You won’t own your washing machine, you’ll lease it.

While the four scenarios look quite different, there is one thing in common: sustainable consumption is mainstream. Maybe that’s the good life after all?


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