The effects of climate change and biodiversity declines are already clearly visible. Unsustainable consumption patterns, fuelled by unsustainable business models are at the heart of the problem. Sufficiency as an approach to make do with less has become more prominent in the sustainability discussions. Some companies are rising to the challenge and are even promoting less consumption or “sufficiency”, enabled by offering products with long product lifetimes and warrantees, repair services or rental offers. In this 2023 study, we investigated whether sufficiency is a trend or a tradition: What can be learned from companies that currently promote sufficiency in their communications? Have they always advocated sufficient consumption, or have they changed recently?
We investigated the historical pathways of advertisements by looking at the advertisements since the 1950s of three longstanding companies that currently promote sufficiency. In these pathways we did observe that some companies had promoted sufficiency values for a long time, while in others there were inconsistencies in the timeline, where more (unsustainable)n consumption was being promoted. While durability of product has been a strong distinguishing factors for the companies being investigated, we did observe inconsistencies by the companies promoting unsustainable behaviour on the way.
We also found that the companies adopt more premium pricing similar to what was found in earlier studies. This shows that while cheaper alternatives are currently still available, it may be difficult to mainstream sufficiency if longer product lifetimes and warrantees are not mandated by law.
To conclude, this study shows that companies can promote sufficiency by offering long-life products and services that support longevity, such as maintenance, repair, reuse or rental. Sufficiency has not hampered business success, but on the contrary, led to long-established successful enterprises. The study also shows the need for consistency in communications and values and the ability of companies to use their cultural reach to enable sustainable consumption patterns.
Bocken, N. M., & Short, S. W. (2016). Towards a sufficiency-driven business model: Experiences and opportunities. Environmental innovation and societal transitions, 18, 41-61.
Niessen, L., Bocken, N., & Dijk, M. (2023). Sufficiency as trend or tradition?—Uncovering business pathways to sufficiency through historical advertisements. Frontiers in Sustainability, 4, 1165682.
Niessen, L., & Bocken, N. M. (2021). How can businesses drive sufficiency? The business for sufficiency framework. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 28, 1090-1103.