Sustainability vs comfortability

USG and comfort

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. – Edward Everett Hale

– Edward Everett Hale

This profound saying, if inculcated by every individual as their life mantra, can perhaps lead to a whole new world – a healthier, greener, safer world for one and all. Let’s deep dive into it through some scenarios. 

Growth and sustainability

We all are consumers of some household appliances, to a certain extent. Technological innovations, scientific breakthroughs, higher disposable incomes, and consumer lifestyle changes have been some of the key drivers of growth in the Appliances and Consumer Electronics (ACE) landscape worldwide.

For instance, the Indian ACE industry is expected to become INR 12,898.89 billion market by 2027, growing at a CAGR of around 15.77% between 2022 and 2027.  

Today, a five-minute power outage can cause us to squirm with irritation. If the air conditioner breaks down during a hot summer night, most of us find it next to impossible to sleep despite the humble ceiling fan serving us. Refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, toasters, and other home appliances are no longer considered luxury goods; they have long transitioned to the category of necessities.

Environmental impact

We are surrounded by electronic goods and to a large extent, we have become highly dependent on them to make our lives more convenient, comfortable, and hassle-free. Unfortunately, we seldom consider the consequences of our high demand and consumption. Even if we do, we are often unaware of the serious environmental impact caused across a product’s lifecycle, right from production to the final stage. 

What’s more interesting to note here is that in today’s digital era, the world populace is rapidly turning to smart/ intelligent technology (as the key enabler for a truly enhanced way of working and living), with movement and sound sensor-powered, artificial intelligence-enabled gadgets, appliances, etc., reducing manual work as well as dependence on humans for most of the routine, mundane tasks.

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As technology continues to improve, the ripple effect is seen in faster obsoletion rate, as consumers turn to more efficient and modern versions. The flip side to it is that this is contributing towards an already existing massive volume of solid waste, including plastic, electronic, glass, paper, and metals, to name a few.

While some of these may be recyclable, the majority of the waste ends up in landfills that today can be seen at the outskirts of the cities as towering mountains of hazardous waste, adversely affecting the health of humans and the environment as a whole.

As a response to these challenges, governments are supporting and encouraging the business ecosystem in adopting the circular business model. 

Doing so, the manufacturers can achieve environmental and financial benefits. A circular business model integrated into the production and consumption cycle enables resource optimization, helps recover waste by means of recycling and gives the obsolete product a second life as a new one, while reducing raw material consumption.

If adopted and carried out systematically, this will result in zero waste generation. In fact, as per industry research, circular economy can provide India with $624 billion in yearly benefits by 2050, as well as help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 44%.

The rapidly growing technology and its very real side effects have given rise to certain questions:

  • As a consumer, what is one’s social and environmental responsibility?
  • Where does one draw a line between seeking self-comfort through new-age smart products and being a torch bearer for environmental sustainability?
  • What can one do to achieve a balanced equilibrium between these two seemingly opposite ends?

While the questions may seem complex, the answers are quite simple – change begins at one’s home!

Tackling the quandary of desire for comfortable living Vs. being environmentally conscious

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To find the answers, we need to look beyond the aspects of utility, seamless installation and usage, aesthetics, functionalities, and technology used. With ongoing upgrades in technology, can we also upgrade our behavior, the consumer’s behavior?

Let’s take the example of one of the recent additions to most urban households, especially at the onset of the pandemic – dishwashers! Quite a few of us who use this appliance have the tendency of clearing out the dishes properly before putting them in the dishwasher. What one doesn’t realize is that by pre-rinsing, one may not get the desired results since most dishwashers have sensors inside them that sense how dirty the plates are, and they wash the dishes with a suitably strong jet.

What’s more, hand washing and rinsing dishes uses far more water as compared to the amount of water used by dishwashers. These appliances are more energy and water efficient. So, it is imperative to have requisite knowledge about the way to use a dishwasher. It’s important here that the manufacturers/ retailers apprise the right method of using the appliance. 

Then there are the refrigerators – from the traditional single-door to the most innovative side-by-side doors, having smart inverter compressor technology, and much more, adding value to today’s smart homes. Consumers must look beyond convenience and see what is the most energy-efficient design. For instance, a top-mount freezer refrigerator is considered to be the most energy efficient refrigerator style.

During winters, consumers are dependent upon room heaters such as oil heaters, electric heaters, etc. Most prefer these to gas heaters due to factors such as lower investments, quick results etc., even though gas heaters are less eco-friendly.

The market is flooded with a plethora of products, and consumers are spoilt for choice. While features can be evaluated based on one’s needs/ convenience, how do we do our bit towards environmental well-being?

3-Rs

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To begin with, every household must embrace the motto ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. What this means is that one must proactively try to reduce or minimize the waste we create.

Be it switching from single-use plastic items to more eco-friendly materials such as glass, steel, cloth, etc. for our daily use; or when we purchase a more updated version of an electronic/ electrical product. 

With more purchasing power, easy financing options, technological enhancements, and enhancing one’s lifestyle, one tends to invest in new products while the existing one is in perfect working condition. This results in the discarded product being disposed of to the informal junk collectors. These collectors in turn, until recently, were using improper recycling and disposal methods. 

While the governments have been working towards establishing a more formal waste management system in the country, it has become the responsibility of the manufacturers/ retailers to establish well-defined and convenient ways for end users to dispose of the goods at the end of their lifecycle, back to them. 

By taking a few simple steps such as checking for the product life span at the point of purchasing the product can also help in choosing one with a longer life span to avoid early replacements. Also, invest more in green products. Further, educate oneself about the raw materials being used and their impact on the environment, if not disposed of in the proper manner. 

To conclude…

While the initiatives on environmental sustainability sound idealistic, they are usually difficult to implement on ground, as they might compromise with the comfort of living for the people concerned, at least in the short run. That could be a potential reason that the projects under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) focusing on environment sustainability usually fail to achieve the desired scales. 

The need of the hour, thus, is to find a middle ground. While technology is continuously upgrading, we as consumers can also upgrade our behavior and support the green and environmental initiatives undertaken by the public/ private sector and take small but firm steps in adopting a more sustainable way of living to help reach the goal of a greener, healthier, safer tomorrow!