Over the past century, our collective measure of whether we are living a “good life” has slowly migrated away from the original values of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that shaped our nation. As our nation became established, and increasingly driven to pursue the gold rush to a vibrant economy, we have slowly lost touch with these core values, and substituted them with the pursuit of upward mobility as demonstrated by our ability to consume. Thanks to decades of messaging from Madison Avenue, the “consumerism equals happiness” equation has become a de facto assumption — not only here in the United States, but around the world. This view has also come to shape the measure of a country’s success. The higher the gross domestic product, the more prosperous the country and its people. 

The drum beat of this message has been clear: the more we buy, the better our lives are.

“Consumers nowadays understand that what they buy matters.”

Beyond consumerism

But today’s consumers are changing their tune. The ubiquity of the internet has brought about a savvier society, comprised of consumers making the connection between their consumption and negative impacts on our planet — from deforestation, to overfishing, to plastics pollution in the ocean and beyond. And for a developed nation like the United States, the myth that money buys happiness is being dispelled. Data suggests that once a modest income has been achieved, and basic needs met, an increase in income and associated consumption does not correlate with happier humans.

Today, it’s becoming increasingly common for consumers to want to know how their purchases impact the environment and society. They want to know where and how the products they buy are made. They want to know how the workers who make their things are treated, and where their goods will go once they’re no longer in use.

A new kind of marketplace

Consumers around the world are becoming more demanding of the brands they buy. They now seek products, services and business models that surprise and delight, while also contributing to a healthy environment and society. Consumers nowadays understand that what they buy matters, not just to themselves and their families, but to their communities and to society and the planet. In short, consumers have been slowly redefining what a good life means to them — a trend that affects all brands across all industries and which constitutes a unique and relatively untapped opportunity for innovation across every market sector.

That’s why Sustainable Brands’ goal is to help elevate the discussion about how smart, future-focused brands can respond to the increasing pressure to help their customers live a healthier life without negative immediate or long term trade-off to the people and planet around them.

For brands to remain competitive, they will have to evolve with this new generation of consumers. Those whose purchases are driven by purpose, and those whose decisions are driven by creating a better world. Now global business leaders have an opportunity to meet their demand and, in doing so, redefine, redesign and deliver a new future. Together we will illustrate how the brand leaders of the future can respond through learning, co-creation and innovation that brings the whole system into conversation.