Trends In Affordability And Sustainability


President of Accenture Song in the Growth Markets region, helping brands find growth and relevance through experience transformation.

Unchecked consumerism and climate change served as the backdrop for many post-apocalyptic movies like Kevin Reynolds’ sci-fi cult classic Waterworld or even Pixar’s popular children’s movie Wall-E. Both portray dystopian versions of earth, a planet flooded due to global warming or made uninhabitable by trash.

Part of our fascination with these fictional settings is that, for many, they do not feel like entirely improbable scenarios—a world destroyed by abundance thinking, a mindset where resources are viewed as limitless and therefore spurs unsustainable consumption patterns.

For decades, businesses have built their growth strategies around promoting the consumption of goods and services, with growth being pegged to the ability to sell more to customers. Affordability, speed and convenience were placed ahead of other considerations, and the availability of raw goods and natural resources to fuel demand was hardly questioned.

This is starting to change. According to recent research in trends by my company, evidence points toward an end of abundance thinking and a need for businesses to evolve their business models to stay relevant.

Over the past year, consumers have come face to face with empty shelves in grocery aisles and shortages in everyday services. A lack of readily available raw materials, the shortage of workers and strained distribution channels have slammed the brakes on abundance thinking.

In Vietnam, lockdowns have left exporters struggling to meet global demand. The inability to ship Vietnamese coffee beans means that some patrons are sitting in idyllic cafes in Japan. Other countries like Spain or Italy might be left with a bitter taste in their mouths from price hikes—figuratively and literally—as climate change-induced droughts in Brazil, the world’s biggest exporter of coffee, have forced roasters to swap coffee bean varieties, using cheaper and more bitter-tasting beans.

While scarcity will be seen as a threat to some, it is not new to many. Price increases are disproportionately affecting those who already have little, making it even harder to make ends meet. Worldwide, inflation driven by increasing transportation costs and energy prices is on the rise. Climate change action has been another catalyst, arguably the zeitgeist of the decade with rhetoric on the subject driven by younger generations, especially so in the Asia Pacific, which is home to more than half of the world’s youth.

Having been uncomfortably reacquainted with scarcity, consumers are rethinking how they purchase and who they purchase from; one of my company’s studies found that sustainable products and services were ranked similarly in importance to their convenience.

And it’s not just consumer sentiment that is moving the needle against abundance thinking. Last year, China’s Singles Day shopping season reflected the nation’s move to regulate excesses in many industries, including big tech, entertainment and gaming, to promote sustainability and better wealth distribution.

Businesses face mounting pressure to step in and solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, but the challenge is not without opportunity.

Embracing Scarcity And Striking A Balance Between Affordability And Sustainability

Keeping a balance between affordability and sustainability should be at the center of your brand’s marketing and innovation, both in the short and long term.

For sustainable behaviors to stick, brands are going to have to think differently. One possible method outlined in my company’s recent trends survey is to make sure to extend a product’s life rather than continue giving into a culture of planned obsolescence.

As an example, fashion rental platforms like MADThread, Closet Share and The Treasure Collective leverage these concepts and create value for consumers by allowing people to rent and wear trendy clothing without breaking the bank and helping contribute less to the environmental footprint of fast fashion retail.

In September 2021, the European Commission proposed a rule that encourages manufacturers to create a universal charge solution for phones and small electronic devices in order to encourage the reuse of existing chargers and reduce waste. The “right to repair” rule in the U.K. states that manufacturers are now bound by the law to provide people buying electrical appliances with access to spare parts. Much like how internet privacy regulations passed by the EU have become commonplace, we could see more emphasis on extending the life of such appliances in other regions to follow suit.

Beyond reviewing product life cycles, this is also a moment to reflect on fragile supply chains. Businesses can analyze them for circularity and find places to replace the traditional “take, make, dispose” business model with one instead focused on reusing and recycling materials.

This means exploring new practices such as dynamic pricing, micro-factories and hyper-localized manufacturing. You can also find opportunities to share existing resources versus creating from scratch. As an example, upcycling companies are doing everything from turning leftover bread into beer to making functional furniture from used coffee grounds.

As we start to embrace scarcity in business, we don’t necessarily have to look at it from a loss-making perspective. Boardrooms of the world must come to accept that innovation does not have to mean new and selling less does not have to mean revenue loss—rather, it can be an opportunity to embrace new business models.

Brands have a chance to change the zeitgeist of this year, shifting conversations toward purpose-led consumption while charting out how they can create a better world in the process of doing business. Even against a backdrop of supply chain issues, environmental concerns and changes in work cultures, a unique opportunity exists for brands to drive change and balance affordability and sustainability. You can help consumers make better choices for the sake of the planet and long-term brand value.


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