As consumers have become more affluent, marketeers have been successful in convincing them that life will be better if they purchase more. Of course, there have been benefits in many walks of life. But the by-product is over-consumption: living beyond the means of the planet. To be sustainable, economic growth must be detached from growth in consumption of materials.
The demand for natural resources created by global economic development is exceeding our planet's capacity to supply us.
For all the pressure to deliver short-term financial results, business has an interest in long-term sustainability. It needs prosperity, social order and access to resources to thrive. There has been a surge in consumer concern for climate change. Research shows that this is not confined to the wealthy West, but that consumers in developing countries also share a desire to act on climate change. The business community is responding, and some leading companies are already well advanced in cutting the climate impact of both their operations and products.
Responding to climate change need not be bad for business. It requires a shift to low-carbon products and services. There will be growth in new sectors and contraction in old ones. Winners will be low-energy appliances, efficient vehicles, public transport, cycling, home energy efficiency, local holidays, internet shopping and home delivery.
People have got used to several holidays a year, plasma screens and houses that are hot in winter and cool in summer. They don't want to give these up - but are starting to feel guilty about their lifestyle. Excessive consumption will become increasingly unfashionable. Consumers will demand products that are durable and low-impact, giving good service for many years, rejecting those that give temporary pleasure at high cost to the planet.
The communications industry has a vital role in the transition to more sustainable products. We can help our clients explain the choices to consumers and give them reasons for selecting climate-friendly, more sustainable options. We can help make durability appealing once again, and disposability less so. It's a great challenge and an opportunity.
Sir Martin Sorrell is the chief executive of advertising group WPP. He joins us as one of our expert commentators in this new regular slot