Back in the 1950’s when women started to migrate from the role of a housewife into the working environment. It resulted in a greater income to the family and for example the car became a necessity more than a luxury. From there it escalated quickly with TV’s, kitchen appliances, toys etc. and today we have Internet and online shopping which makes it even easier.
There has been a massive change the last 50 years in how we devour material possessions. The time it takes for something to leave the shelf in the shop until it hits the bottom of our bin is now shorter than ever. With a fast growing population and with our well of material resources rapidly running dry, we have to stop this behaviour.
In the beginning of 20th century consumption spending was just about $1.5 trillion (UNDP, 1998) in the world and it’s gone up to $12 trillion by 1975 and then doubled to $24 trillion by 1998. Because of the global financial crises it slowed down but is predicted to hit $40 trillion dollars by 2020 (MarketingCharts.com, 2012).
What can we do to stop this consuming madness?
First, there are some things we need to realise. Product availability will only go up. Global purchases will be more efficient than it already is. Internet will make it even easier. This is a development we cannot stop or delay, we have to accept it.
Consumers have a big responsibility to buy or not to buy but sadly this decision is more often price orientated than humanitarian. This I believe is not only controlled by consumers “greed” but more likely the unawareness. The unawareness of how the products are made, how big companies exploit productions in other countries to make a product as cheap as possible with the best possible profit. The unawareness of peoples working conditions in other countries, how people are used and are stuck in their jobs with no other option than to work.
I want consumers to be aware of what they are buying.
Companies need to be forced to be brutally honest. We have seen examples of it already with the pictures on the cigarette packages. Instead of pictures of people with various deceases caused by cigarettes, they should be forced to put information about the product and production conditions. Companies need more rules to follow and it needs to be visible to the consumer. As a consumer today, it’s not easy to find information about your product. If it was more visible, the power would be back in the hands of the consumers. We can choose to not buy a product if it has unfair ethics during production but it’s not easy if the information never reaches the consumer.
I believe with a system like that people would choose to buy a product that’s been produced under the right conditions.
We have products like “Fair Trade” but the rules are not always clear what defines a fair trade product. Companies interpret the rules differently and this creates confusion. This does not concern the believer though. The believer I say because the customer that buys the product believes that it is “Fair Trade” and to some grade it is. This consumer doesn’t know about this confusion unless he or she did research about it.
What I am getting to here is that knowledge is essential when it comes to change. If people know about all the cheating and mistreatment of a product or a production, they would choose to not buy it.
I believe that the only way we can achieve true change is to inform people about either what harm it can do to you (e.g. cigarette packaging) or what harm it does to others (e.g. working conditions) and they can cause the change them self. This behaviour rewards the consumer in a psychological way of making him or her believe that they made the right choice. This will cause a ripple effect and affect that consumer’s friends and family.
There is also a way to do this when it comes to groceries. Today if you walk into a supermarket you can find products that haven’t gone through fancy packaging design. Products like sugar, flour etc. that are basic products that doesn’t differ that much in between brands like others can. This can be implemented on imported products to clearly mark the origin. This will be more beneficial to other countries just because of the wide range of produce made in Australia.
Certain things we consume are extremely unnecessary but we still do it. Things that contribute to hundreds of thousands tons of greenhouse gas emissions, taking up massive space in landfill and costs 2500 times more than what we have in our own home, bottled water. This is very much a behaviour that can be controlled but companies that sells water put a lot of money and effort into selling this overpriced drink so working against them is not easy. I believe though that if there would be more possibilities to refill bottles around the city and public areas we would have a great drop in sales of bottled water.
These are steps I believe would lead to great change, necessary change. If we look at how our consumption rate is escalating today is not one day too early to start fighting for a reduced consumption because we need a change.
Here is a simple sentence that should be on all bottles.
“The amount of oil used to make a year’s worth of bottles could fill one million cars for a year, and more water is used in making the bottle than filling it.” (http://au.businessinsider.com, 2011)
Be more aware, change your behaviour and others will follow
Consumerism vs Sustainability Debate on Consumer Ethics and Innovative Practices Promoting Sustainable Business | Carlos Fierro – Academia.edu. 2013. Consumerism vs Sustainability Debate on Consumer Ethics and Innovative Practices Promoting Sustainable Business | Carlos Fierro – Academia.edu. [ONLINE] Available at:
Global Consumer Spending to Jump by $12 Trillion This Decade. 2013. Global Consumer Spending to Jump by $12 Trillion This Decade. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.marketingcharts.com/wp/topics/asia-pacific/global-consumer-spending-to-jump-by-12-trillion-this-decade-22205/.
How Consumerism Affects Society, Our Economy and the Environment. 2013. How Consumerism Affects Society, Our Economy and the Environment. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.verdant.net/society.htm.
15 Outrageous Facts About The Bottled Water Industry | Business Insider Australia. 2013. 15 Outrageous Facts About The Bottled Water Industry | Business Insider Australia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://au.businessinsider.com/facts-bottled-water-industry-2011-10?op=1#the-production-of-water-bottles-uses-17-million-barrels-of-oil-a-year-and-it-takes-three-times-the-water-to-make-the-bottle-as-it-does-to-fill-it-11.