As Dr. Saul Griffith was reported to have said in his talk at the eTech conference in March of 2008, and as I mentioned in a previous entry (link), in a sustainable future we can expect to have one tenth as much stuff, and make it last ten times as long. This will mean achieving quality and durability levels in the items we use everyday that will support, or at least approach this. There is more to this, however, and the implications for business are interesting.
After globalization has leveled the economic playing field, a process already in progress, the average person in today’s industrialized countries will have less buying power. The high standards of living and average personal incomes of people in the (previously) wealthiest countries, who were living “high on the hog” in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, will have come down closer to the global average as a result of “low-cost country” sourcing and the ever increasing efficiency of global shipping. These same people won’t want to see their standard of living reduced any more than necessary, and this will cause a shift in purchase patterns toward higher quality, higher value products. The demand for reasonably priced products that will be more efficient and last longer will be increased, and the change could be further enhanced by a general consciousness that longer lasting products will reduce waste and carbon emissions.
The average person’s living space (and vehicle, if they have one) will be smaller to save on energy use, materials, cost, etc., so they will have less space for things. Thus, products with multiple functions and smaller size will be in increased demand, and seen as a savings to the buyer and the environment as they reduce the number of devices one must have to maintain their standard of living.
For manufacturing businesses, this means that making smaller, more efficient, and more versatile products will be important. Also, quality and the constant improvement of quality could become essential competitive advantages in a way never before dreamt of, even in the quality-focused early 1980’s. Back then, it was well known that higher quality means decreased waste in the manufacturing process, for example, as well as higher customer satisfaction and the customer loyalty that leads to repeat business – the essence of long term business success. It is even possible there will be a resurgence of interest in the teachings of W. Edwards Deming and similar quality gurus, from whom we learned about the fundamental principles of and need for continuous quality improvement, and the statistical tools and concepts needed to achieve it.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but it seems clear that, as resource shortages become more prevalent and drive costs upward, as a public will to reduce carbon emissions takes hold, and as buying power in the most developed countries declines, the demand for higher quality, more efficient, smaller sized, and longer lasting products will increase significantly. This will change the rules of the game for manufacturing businesses, and drive significant changes in both individual and corporate behavior.