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One of the most dangerous things about a consumer-focused material goods economy, from an environmental perspective, is that in order for you to have a sustainable business, you have to consume resources. Not only do you have to consume resources, you have to consume a lot of them. That’s at odds with the long-term environmental goals we need to reach in order to keep things habitable for us on this little blue marble called Earth. There are other worlds out there that might sustain us, but moving the human race 600 light years to Kepler 22b isn’t really an option at this point.

So how do you keep a consumer economy running while mitigating its impact on the ecology? Here’s one answer that came up last night in World of Warcraft: sparkleponies. Its proper name is the Celestial Steed, which you can buy for your in-game character for 25. (on sale now apparently for10). Here’s another variant, called Tyrael’s Charger.

Tyrael's Charger

Yes, it’s a shiny pony with angel wings that your character rides around.

What does this have to do with anything? In this case, it’s getting consumers to buy a virtual good, a consumer item that has no manufacturing cost of real world resources except electricity and the server farm that World of Warcraft runs on. What’s more, once the infrastructure is in place, there’s almost no actual cost to make one more sparklepony or one million more of these. They’re just rows in a database.

They’re rows in a database, however, that people will pay money for. Things like convenience and status in a virtual world are just as important as in the real world, and as we integrate technology into our lives more and more, these virtual goods become just as valuable as the physical goods we’re used to buying.

This trend can only accelerate. The faster we deplete natural resources, the more expensive it will be to manufacture physical world commodities. Thus, if you want to be ahead of the curve and taking advantage of consumer willingness to purchase virtual goods, figure out some way to add digital products or services to your current offerings. You’ll save the environment and make money at the same time.

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