11/11/2014 05:29 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST

Businesses Need To Start Focusing on 'Guilt-Free' Consumption To Get Ahead

Given the current climate with a growing global concern for the health of ourselves and our planet, there is an evolving trend sweeping the world today known as "guilt free consumption."

Recent research showed that 36.4 per cent of consumers worldwide -- a staggering 2.5 billion "aspirational consumers" -- enjoy consuming but have gnawing guilt feelings about their consumption. What is interesting is that this consumer trend is found both in the developed and developing world with some of the largest increases in "guilt free" consumers happening in places like Asia.

These feelings of guilt involve three areas:

1) Personal: We worry that the products we are either using or ingesting may be harming ourselves or our family's health and safety. For example, are the chemicals in the cleaning products noxious? Are the cars we're driving safe?

2) Society and Nature: We are concerned that some products may have an adverse effect on society or other people or animals. Were animals misused or abused in the testing of cosmetics? Was my new t-shirt that I just bought for a great price made in a factory in Bangladesh that may collapse tomorrow killing several hundred innocent women and possibly even children?

3) Planet: Are the products that I'm using harming the earth by causing more global warming? Are they using too much energy or creating toxic waste in the air, earth or oceans?

We used to think that only a small minority like greenies or hippies felt this way, but statistics prove otherwise. Given that one third of the planet is thinking about "guilt free consumption" any company that fails to address these three areas is missing out on a huge competitive advantage. A wise company will ask themselves how their products are adversely affecting people, nature and the planet and develop initiatives to reduce these effects.

One of the fascinating things about this new "guilt free consumer" is that in fact they like to consume. They aren't really focused on living a life without consuming but rather want to keep shopping and feel good about it. In some ways this consumer will have an even bigger impact on the marketplace because these over one billion consumers may begin to see "guilt free" as a kind of trump card where all things being equal this becomes the factor that drives their product choices.

Companies may be tempted to try to tell a good story without really addressing the three factors-self, society and environment but consumers and employees have an astute "BS meter" so merely "green washing" to assuage guilt won't work. Implementing real sustainable practices and telling a viable story to your customers will alleviate buyers' guilt and result in bigger profits.

The bottom line is that smart companies must find a way to help consumers make the "easy" choice meaning they can check the three boxes and buy without guilt. If we can help them feel some sense of having done something good even better. So get ready the Guilt Free Consumer is rising up all over the world. This trend will reshape how we consume and how we sell.

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