The Consumer is always…..wrong?

Dick Searle9smallIt gives me no pleasure whatsoever to return to a topic that I guessed – in my heart of hearts – I knew I would be returning to at regular intervals.

My phrase for it – in a nutshell – is consumer responsibility. It is the mirror opposite to the faulty but advancing notion of Extended Producer Responsibility.

Last month provided a number of triggers on that score, and saw me take part in a number of ‘focus group’ meetings involving all walks of society in which old stereotypes and misapprehensions sadly flared up again.

The first of these myths is that all industry and all manufacturing inflicts its products and its profiteering upon hapless societies the world over. The second myth is that consumers in these societies are not capable of thought or of choosing any of this output – let alone taking responsibility for either their thoughts or their choices. According to this view, populations and consumers are victims; passive blank slates; simply waiting to be directed by mass advertising into the maw of greedy companies.

As we know the way consumers actually work is much different. Consider the growing power and choice making of the consumer online – as evidenced by the desperate battle of retailers to win hearts and mind in home shopping; the new mechanisms of Trip Advisor and GroupOn and other consumer based initiatives that drive down price and further competition into the heart of the supply side.  In many ways there has never been better time to be a consumer.

‘Oh yes but industry still pollutes our world and destroys our environment – via consumers – with its products” is the refrain. Excuse me but litter, empty packaging – industrial materials – products – these inert items don’t make choices. People make choices. Consumers make choices, litter and waste.

Consumers are the ever-changing and organic driver of this cycle; of our market economies and of our recycling and waste management. Shining awareness into that facet of public life is what we need now – not this woolly notion of the producer paying even more.

So let us see and acknowledge that responsibility is a shared activity for producers and consumers alike. The benefit and outcomes from that kind of joined-up thinking will make for an intelligent future.

Both myself and colleague Jane Bickerstaffe at the Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) are continuing to preach the positives of reason and intelligence on these matters in our world – including issues of packaging.

This month’s experiences has reminded me yet again that we need to move out of the choir and into the street.

Our recent Fresher for Longer initiative has made a good start in that regard and INCPEN’s new video – also available on our site – is keeping up the pace.

However, from the other direction the nonsense of Extended Producer Responsibility threatens to take us down another blind alley. Please help us to embrace and understand the realities of Consumer Responsibility for all our sakes.

Many thanks.

Dick Searle