Brand New View – John Davis

A Tale of Two …. Economies?

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John Davis

John Davis

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The first is consumption-led activity in which you and I play a direct role. The second is the supporting ecosystem that enables us to receive our goods on a timely and affordable basis. The latter is a result of the former. Demand drives supply, and supply depends on raw materials, manufacturing, and reliable shipping (current supply chain woes are disrupting this dynamic).[i] And demand is driven by innumerable factors ranging from essential (what I need for survival) to wasteful (what I don’t need but would love to have…). Wasteful, in particular, is fueled by our definition of success and that is influenced by our personal network of relationships and our company’s different partners who work with us to bring solutions to market. 

Let’s dig further. Your personal network is likely comprised of people sharing relatively similar values and definitions of a successful life, such as asset accumulation (finances, goods, houses, things…). The friendships and like-minded spirit you have with others in your network are, to a large extent, based on these shared values and definitions. Your company’s partnership successes are more than likely defined by relatively reliable sourcing (i.e. key components and ingredients are available when you need them) and low costs. Furthermore, your company’s overall success is predicated ultimately on its profitability, which is a by-product of low cost materials, cheaper labor, and getting the goods your customers seek to them on time and affordably. Both personal and professional ecosystem dynamics are the result of years of human behaviors and business practices arising from these narrow definitions of success, and it is very hard for us to envision alternative definitions that place sustainability at their core since company and personal growth depends on accumulation, not reduction, of consumption.

Now let’s look at the repercussions of these definitions with today’s supply chain woes. People are feeling the pinch of their favorite goods missing in action. Analysts are warning us to make our Christmas orders now if we hope to have the goods in time for the holidays. That plea pushes a narrative that says we must continue to consume-as-usual (CAU) to act as if it is business-as-usual (BAU). But it’s not a CAU BAU world anymore. Consumption patterns are changing in response to product shortages from supply chain slow-downs, not the least of which are clogged ports, where ships laden with goods are awaiting slots to off load—and it is most acute in the US. The shortage of workers hinders efficient cargo movement, a problem compounded by out-of-date US ports which are poorly ranked in a survey of the world’s leading ports. Whereas modern ports have been built across Asia and parts of Europe, the US lags in technology and modern infrastructure needed to move goods efficiently.[ii] As goods sit offshore on idle ships, the economic contribution of each container on each ship decreases with each day. But just as we saw last year when the pandemic was first accelerating and most types of travel dropped near zero and correspondingly the world’s production of carbon also declined (temporarily)[iii], the supply chain-driven goods shortages are changing how we consume. Think of it this way—for the better part of the past century society has upped its consumption of ‘things’. As wealth increased, purchases of those ‘things’ increased. A disposable mindset took hold; when something we own no longer works as it once did, or when we simply need the dopamine buzz shopping stimulates, then we go buy something.[iv] With a good chunk of the world’s economic activity driven by our consumption habits, the supply chain blockages will impact economic growth patterns across countries. And that will force us to change how and what we consume. One obvious example is the increase in digital shopping. But an even more important trend is consumer interest in buying from sustainable companies.

We’re not heading toward an era of non-consumption, at least not yet. Instead, sustainable consumption behaviors are increasing, away from instant gratification and toward more patient behaviors characterized by holding-off on purchases, extending the life of existing goods we own, finding increasingly novel ways to share with others as opposed to outright purchasing (for example, consumption patterns in Asia are rapidly changing in this direction),[v] and buying from organizations that are overtly and demonstrably ESG-centered.[vi] The cynical adage of ‘the person who dies with the most toys wins’ is giving way to a more practical philosophy ‘the person who dies with the fewest non-sustainable goods wins.” Of course, more sustainable consumption is still consumption, so limited resources, carbon footprint growth and environmental damage will continue to be a challenge. One of the changes societies everywhere must make is redefining the markers of a successful lifestyle. Affluence remains an economic objective for many people worldwide and has accelerated the past 20 years as middle classes grew around the world. However, affluence implies abundance, and that places significant stress on finite resources. Studies show that as the world population nears 10 billion by 2050 current lifestyle patterns would require 3 planets of natural resources.[vii]  We won’t be a multi-planet species in our lifetimes, so reality suggests we must deal with our resource demands now, which means we must redefine success. This brings us back to supply chain problems and unclogging them. The Biden Administration has worked with large companies to help solve the clogged ports, including running them 24/7.[viii] That will help address the current log-jam but won’t solve the stress placed on resources (those materials have already been extracted and processed, so we can’t easily put their constituent ingredients back in the ground…). As I mentioned above, the bigger need is redefining what constitutes a successful lifestyle. Moving away from disposable consumption and toward sustainable consumption is central to this. That will help but won’t solve it entirely because most of our production business models are primarily based on ‘use once’ practices. The more difficult shift is toward a lifestyle definition based on societal value gains arising from regeneration-centric circular economy practices. To help, identify what you are going to do to change your consumption habits and how can you help your company transform into a force-for-good by investing in a societal-value business model.

There are many resources available to help you learn more, including: 

This era is both stressful and exciting. Stressful because transforming from a consumption-driven economy to a sustainable circular economy is hard work. Exciting because there are companies, public institutions, investors and NGOs that are working hard to bring this new future to life. But it also requires that you adopt new, more sustainable habits and redefine the markers of a healthy lifestyle.


[i] Goodman, Peter. (2021). How the Supply Chain Broke, and Why It Won’t Be Fixed Anytime Soon. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/22/business/shortages-supply-chain.html.

[ii] Baertlein, Lisa. (2021). California ports, key to U.S. supply chain, among world’s least efficient, ranking shows. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/world/us/california-ports-key-us-supply-chain-among-worlds-least-efficient-2021-10-20/.

[iii] IEA. (2021). Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2020. IEA, Paris. Retrieved from https://www.iea.org/articles/global-energy-review-co2-emissions-in-2020.

[iv] Haynes, Trevor. (2018). Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time. Science in the News. Harvard University The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved from https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/?web=1&wdLOR=c2B86A53E-9DBA-1A49-A132-5854BA983B0D.

[v] Seong, Jeongmin; Tiago Devesa. (2021). Asia’s consumer map is being redrawn. Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2021/10/12/asias-consumer-map-is-being-redrawn/.

[vi] European Commission. (2021). Supporting policy with scientific evidence. EC. Retrieved from https://knowledge4policy.ec.europa.eu/growing-consumerism_en.

[vii] Doran, Peter. (2021). Doing More with Less: Ensuring Sustainable Consumption and Production. IISD. Retrieved from https://www.iisd.org/articles/doing-more-less-ensuring-sustainable-consumption-and-production.

[viii] Swanson, Ana; Jeanna Smialek; Jim Tankersley. (2021). Biden Announces Measures at Major Ports to Battle Supply Chain Woes. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/13/us/politics/biden-port-los-angeles-supply-chain.html.