Promoting the personal benefits of sustainable consumption, such as more free time and less stress, could play an important role in encouraging more sustainable living, according to a recent study. The researchers interviewed people who lived greener lifestyles and found that self-interest influenced their decision to consume less and buy sustainable products.
Self-interest is traditionally associated with consuming resources with no concern for others or the environment. However, 'self-interest' is different from 'selfishness' and the personal benefits of responsible behaviour could be part of the solution to sustainability problems.
The study explored the practices, beliefs and values of a specific group of people in Canada who are part of the 'voluntary simplicity' movement. This is a movement that promotes 'decluttering' and voluntarily cutting down on consumption. The researchers observed voluntary simplicity group meetings and interviewed 11 participants in-depth, focusing on self-interest motives.
Many respondents cited 'more time' as a benefit of living sustainably and the sense of being less dependent on work and income. The less they consumed, the less they needed to work to sustain their lifestyle. This meant they spent less time at work and less time buying or maintaining objects they had bought.
When buying products, the respondents tended to prefer simpler objects with a limited number of features. They felt these were less likely to break and less likely to require money, time and care to repair or replace. This provided a sense of control for owners who felt they could perhaps repair the product, or at least understand what was wrong. It was also believed that 'products that do one thing do it well'.
The respondents had also considered different ways of consuming products which related to self-interest. Several participants used alternatives to purchasing new products, such as renting, car-sharing or toy rental services. This allows people to benefit from using the product while investing less energy, money and time in maintaining it. 'Do-it-yourself' was a popular practice and many possessed second-hand goods, that they had either bought themselves or acquired through local exchange trading systems.
The study indicated that more responsible consumption practices can be motivated by perceived personal or family gains and this could play a role in promoting and encouraging sustainable design solutions and businesses more widely. This suggests that designers and manufacturers should develop goods that are durable, updatable, simple, easily repairable and reusable, not only for environmental reasons, but also to respond to individual perceived benefits.
More businesses could be involved in after-sales service to provide support to increase product life spans or perform product upgrading. Product-service systems, such as car-sharing, could be further developed and expanded. Lastly, the communication and marketing of sustainable products could reinforce personal benefits in their messages.
Further research is needed to explore this area more thoroughly. For example, data could be gathered on actual actions since, when reporting their behaviour, participants may well present a positive image that is not quite accurate in reality. The study also only focused on the self-interest motives of respondents, and did not discuss motives for benefiting others or the environment.