Europa Bendig
Managing Partner STURMundDRANG
02.09.2021 | reading time: 3 minutes

The Joys of Frugality

This article first appeared in the May 05/21 issue of "absatzwirtschaft".

In lockdown we had time to take a good look around at the 10,000 things we own. In particular we noticed how many things we have that have no meaning for us – some we were even willing to throw away unused. The number of products households own increases every year, even as their useful lives get shorter and shorter.

We may have decluttered and given some things away in these past weeks when many of us have thought more about ourselves and our consumer behavior than ever before. Yet the heuristic remains in place of “what can we add here”, so we overlook opportunities to make do with less. What’s more, reduction-oriented narratives have tendentially negative connotations in our culture, as people are generally more interested in ‘upsizing’ rather than 'right-sizing'. This is of course the inevitable outcome of the system in place. Brands and businesses benefit from overconsumption, short product generations and planned obsolescence on the emotional as well as the functional level. We all know: this very system-determined outcome is unsustainable; it will not survive eternally into the future. Consumers have developed greater awareness, in part due to the pandemic, which has caused spending on consumer non-durables to fall five percent despite the government’s VAT cut, representing the largest decline seen since 1970. Roughly 30 percent of the German population are early adopters regarding sustainability (“Who cares, Who does” study, Kantar 2019) who actively shop for ‘green’ products from ecological manufacturing and/or take steps to reduce their overall consumption. So is regrettable renunciation necessary as a sacrifice for a better environment?

Going beyond green consumption

Various studies indicate that green consumerism in no way translates into greater psychological well-being. Rather, as pointed out in a study entitled Young Consumers conducted by the University of Arizona, “Greater well-being and lower psychological stress were the result of reducing consumption.” Frugality is a liberating lifestyle that relieves one of many burdens. And consumers are increasingly refusing to go along with of the traditional cycles of buying and usage.

But how is reducing consumption compatible with the boundless expectations created around the doctrine of shareholder value? Here we have a few examples: The company Patagonia limits its usage of logos, in part to make it easier to pass on its clothing items to others. Chain shops dm Markt and Budnikowski are experimenting with bottle returns, refill options, upcycling and other closed product usage cycles, primarily with their proprietary brands. And Nivea and Henkel are two companies engaged in structuring their processes in a more cyclical fashion. The winning brands today are those that render the need for recurring consumption superfluous, avoiding one-time-usage items in particular.

In the near future, it will take more for brands to remain competitive than just offering sustainable packaging or supporting social causes. Brands will have to enable consumers to do more with less by re-conceiving products from a cyclical standpoint. Answers must be provided to consumers asking: Where does my product come from? Where does it go? How might I extend its useful life? To give satisfying answers to these questions companies will have to have an attitude of responsibility toward their products, from their first usage cycle to their last.


This article first appeared in the May 05/21 issue of "absatzwirtschaft".

Image references: Image 1: "Focus" // Image 2: "Graffiti" // Image 3: "Neon" // Image 4: "Bottle"


Author: Europa Bendig

STURMundDRANG founder and General Manager Europa Bendig has been consulting on innovation processes for NGOs and international enterprises for 18 years, primarily in the luxury goods, health, services, beauty, living and social businesses. She specializes in cultural codes and narratives that give brands and portfolios cultural relevance and promote customer loyalty.