We’re Building A New Consumption Model. Here’s Why It Starts At The Beginning: Birth.
Babies and children are most vulnerable to our current consumption model. They’re also the key to building a better one.
In part one of this story, I explained why our consumption model is broken, and how we can build a new one. If you haven’t read it, here’s a quick summary (or watch the short video below):
- Our consumption model is hurting our environment, our physical and mental health. We’re over-using natural resources, exposing children to toxic chemicals in our everyday products, and creating too much waste. This is unsustainable.
- A big part of the problem is ingrained in the fabric of our lifestyle. The changes needed go beyond what products we choose. We need to redesign our behaviors: Why and how we consume.
- We can evolve to a new, higher form of consumption. When we do that, we create endless opportunities to re-imagine and improve our lives.
We have to organize new ways to provide everyday products and services. These should address the following challenges:
- To reduce overconsumption → help determine what we really need.
- To avoid toxic products → ensure the highest sustainability standard.
- To limit waste → offer after-use options such as take-back or re-sell.
But that’s only half the solution. To succeed, these alternatives need to offer a significantly superior value proposition. That means a service that people can afford and be excited about.
Keys To Changing Consumption Patterns
Consumption patterns are both simple and complex. Simple, because it’s in part driven by common sense. We want things. We have cravings. We like it better when it’s quick and easy. We usually prefer to spend less than more. We don’t like to feel guilty. We care about our family and close friends first. We only have one life, and we want to enjoy it as much as we can. It’s also complex because we don’t make decisions purely based on logic or common sense. Our biases trick our brain into choosing instant gratification over long-term rewards. We are influenced by our environment: what ads tell us, what our friends do, what food is offered at work.
We know we need to change the way we consume. But change is hard. We have to learn a new way. We have to develop new habits. Where do we start?
Let’s focus on three keys to changing behaviors:
- Identifying a good starting point: We need a catalyst, a strong reason to want to act now.
- Offering a compelling alternative: It’s much easier to replace an old behavior with a new one than just stopping it. We can’t simply tell people to “buy less”. We have to offer a better alternative.
- Designing for long-term adoption: We need this alternative to be great today, but also durable. It needs to evolve into new virtuous habits.
So, how do we do this?
Starting With Moments
Consumption is not a linear, uniform process. It is part of our lives. It reflects our journey and carries our memories. Our first car. Her favorite doll. The dress you wore that night.
Consumption happens as our lives unfold. It happens in moments. We get our first job and we buy a suit. We sign up to a gym and we go shop for sneakers. We move to a new place and we purchase new furniture. There are moments that come with high consumption, and others with none. Some moments lead to disposable purchases, others to precious gifts. The excess happens when consumption itself becomes a moment.
To re-design consumption, we start by identifying catalyst moments. As we go through life, we experience major events. Some are biological, like the birth of a child, becoming a grandparent or the onset of a chronic condition. Others are social, like getting married, starting a new job or moving to a new city. Changing consumption patterns is easiest when people go through a major life event. Because of that, these moments are our starting point.
Why We’re Starting With Babies
At UpChoose, we design pathways to a more thoughtful consumption model. We focus on major life events as stepping stones to adopting mindful consumption routines. We start with the beginnings: babies.
There are three main reasons why we focus on this moment:
1. People are more open to change when they’re expecting a child. Parents want to make the best choices for their babies. That gives them a strong motivation to question what they buy. They become more open to new alternatives. As Charles Duhigg notes in The Power of Habits (2012):
“ There’s almost no greatest upheaval for most customers than the arrival of a child. As a result, new parents’ habits are more flexible at that moment than at almost any other period in an adult’s life.”
2. Babies and children are most vulnerable to toxic chemicals in everyday products. Scientists found toxic chemicals in most of our everyday products. For example, they found widespread use of hazardous chemicals in children clothing. Recent studies also highlighted the impact of pesticide exposure during pregnancy on children’s brain development. The impact is greater on children because their bodies and brains are still developing. Yet, healthful alternatives like organic clothing are hard to find and significantly more expensive.
3. There is a lot of mindless consumption in the baby product market. Parents spend an average of $10,000 to $14,000 just on their baby’s first year. This is related to expenses like baby furniture, clothes, strollers, diapers, car seats, doctor’s visits, and daycare. In addition, moms often receive more gifts at their baby shower than they can handle. They end up donating what’s in excess, and what they don’t like. Because babies grow so fast, many products like clothes will only be used a few times. All this results in overspending, clutter, and waste. According to Dr. Susan Linn, a psychologist and expert on child consumerism:
“The messages given to new parents today are that if you don’t have the latest, most updated products, your baby won’t be safe and you won’t be a good parent.”
In short, there is both an opportunity and a responsibility to help parents transition to more mindful consumption practices.
A New Consumption Model For Sustainability And Children’s Health
Expecting moms are one of the groups that are most targeted by consumer brands. From the moment you’re pregnant, marketers put you on their radar. They see you as the decision-maker for most household-related purchases. Shopping for a newborn is often confusing, if not insane. Thousands of baby products on the market create almost endless choices. Many of them are unnecessary. Take, for example, the emerging trend of luxury baby products. They reportedly accounted for $10.6 billion in sales in 2013.
It rapidly becomes overwhelming to know what food, clothing, diapers, toys or laundry soap is the right one. Parents don’t have time to do in-depth research and make well-informed choices on every single issue. Even after hours of googling and reading curated lists, they end up compromising.
We can offer alternatives that solve for joy, convenience, sustainability, and affordability. We need to make it easier for people to make the right choices.
To do that, we need to:
- Help parents cut through the noise and get what they really need.
- Ensure what they get meets the highest standard of health and safety.
- Organize after-use networks so families share resources and costs.
We can leverage technology to learn from a large amount of data what we really need in various situations. We can build platforms that connect families and make it much easier to share resources.
To see how it works in practice, take the sustainable baby wardrobe solution we developed at UpChoose. Moms get a curated set of high-quality, organic baby clothes delivered at each phase of their baby’s growth. They return the clothes when their baby outgrows them, and earn credit towards the next size. Because of the return system, we can offer both new and preloved sets, and charge each customer less. More families get access beautiful and healthful clothes for their babies while reducing clutter, avoiding unnecessary spending and helping to protect our planet at the same time.
Our aim is to make the transition to a better consumption model:
- As easy as possible. Parents pick the size and style they want. They then get all the essentials in one easy set delivered to their door. They save time and avoid unnecessary spending.
- As safe as possible. All the clothes inside a set are curated for health and sustainability. They get the healthiest and softest fabrics for baby skin, free from harmful chemicals.
- As affordable as possible. Parents return their set and save money on the next size. They also pioneer a new model of preloved clothing which enables us to charge each customer less and democratize access to healthful alternatives.
From Major Life Event To Everyday Life
To accelerate the transition to sustainable consumption, it’s important that we figure out how to change consumption patterns. We can do it by focusing on major life events and offer better alternatives. However, if this does not sustain over time, it will not be enough.
As we spoke with hundreds of moms in the past year, something kept coming up. They want the best for their children. Even if it’s complicated and expensive, many will go the extra mile to make the best choice possible. They research topics like nutrition or hazardous chemicals. They spend extra money to get products with the right labels or certification. But, after a few months, “reality kicks in”. Often because of cost, they start compromising.
This is why it’s so important that the solutions we build are designed to last. What really matters is to create lasting change. To go from a major life event to everyday life. To achieve that, we have to create the right incentives for customers and for providers.
In our case, our solution covers at least the first three years of life:
- For the customer, the service becomes more valuable over time. As they keep participating in the return and reuse model, they keep earning credits and can select options that decrease their cost. For example, they can opt for a preloved set at a reduced price. They can also use a group buying option where their friends contribute towards their next set.
- The company benefits when users benefit over time. By reducing the upfront cost of the product, we align our interests with our users. We don’t succeed by selling a great product at a high price. We succeed by organizing a service that helps a large number of people spend their money in a more thoughtful way and over time.
To sum up, to transition to a sustainable consumption model we need to:
- Design superior alternatives to address overconsumption, toxicity and waste challenges.
- Unlock their impact through new business and distribution models like sharing and reusing.
- Build these models to align incentives and create lasting change.
Turns out the future may depend as much on our ability to effectively reuse rockets than your baby’s onesies.
Ali is the Founder and CEO of UpChoose PBC, a startup on a mission to activate consumers’ role in transitioning to a sustainable future.
Learn more at www.upchoose.com