New Models for Engaging Consumers: A Report from Opportunity Green

by RAVI SAWHNEY 11.10.09, Fast Company

The business and sustainability conference Opportunity Green, held this past weekend in L.A., was an amazing experience. As we watched the various films and presentations, my wife and I moved from fear (How will the world survive?) to guilt (Look how we’ve polluted our planet!) to the hope that we can all work together, connected by the belief and passion that we will find a better way.

The Story of Stuff

One of the presentations that struck me most was when sustainability expert Annie Leonard shared her film, “The Story of Stuff.” The animated work takes a hard (yet humorous) look at the pitfalls of our consumer society. It has developed quite a following, with more than 7 million views to date. After watching it, you come away wondering if it’s possible to have a consumer-based economy and achieve true sustainability.

This is something that both industrial designers and their clients have to consider. Traditionally, we are dependent upon consumers to buy the things we create. Shifting the consumer paradigm has to begin with a fundamental shift in the way we think, the way we do business, and the way we all live our lives.

This syncs up well with a point cognitive anthropologist Dr. Bob Deutsch has been making for years now. According to Deutsch, we need to do a “search and replace” in the way we speak, and to move from talking about “consumers” to talking about “people.” Perhaps this is the first step on the path to finding ways to thrive in business without consuming ourselves and our world into oblivion.

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