How including extra considerations in our consumption decision-making can make a significant difference… A question of Conscientious Consumerism
We, people, consume everything: goods and services, food and drink, data, content and information, etc. We’re so good at consuming, that we are now over-consuming to levels that are detrimental to the sustainability of the planet and our own pockets.
Neoclassical Macroeconomic Theory
Household consumption is an important aspect in a state’s macroeconomic calculation of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Typically, a state’s gross domestic product is a success measurement for various aspects of a country e.g., stable governments, market confidence, manufacturing capabilities, earning ability and wealth and strength of business cycles.
Also relevant, is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) of a country, which measures inflation in an economy by providing calculations of the weighted average of consumer goods and services purchased by households. CPI’s can also tell us about consumers’ purchasing behaviour and changes over time.
However, all these statistics and calculations are informed and driven by us, the end-point consumer.
Growing Middle Class Fuelling Overconsumption
The global economy has well and truly recovered from the great economic recessions of the early-to-mid 1900’s due to turbulent global politics and world wars of the time.
Queue in the dotcom boom in the 1990’s and the growth of the information technology spaces and the internet and we’ve created an environment primed for consuming.
Even despite a global pandemic in COVID-19 in 2020, although consumer behaviour curbed in the beginning it only learnt to adapt to the disruption as time went on.
A June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey conducted by PwC reported strong shifts towards online shopping during the global lockdowns. More than 50% of the consumers surveyed indicated that they digital devices more frequently to facilitate their consumerism more than before, with smartphone shopping doubling since 2018.
The International Resource Panel (IRP), an arm of the United Nations Environment Programme reports that rising consumption driven by a growing middle class has seen natural resource extraction triple in just 40 years from 22 billion tonnes in 1970 to 70 billion tonnes in 2010.
Alicia Barcena Ibarra, the IRP’s co-chair has said:
“The alarming rate at which materials are now being extracted is already having a severe impact on human health and people’s quality of life… We urgently need to address this problem before we have irreversibly depleted the resources that power our economies and lift people out of poverty. This deeply complex problem, one of humanity’s biggest tests yet, calls for a rethink of the governance of natural resource extraction.”
A 2020 Emissions Gap Report, published by the United Nations Environment Programme reported that household consumption of goods and services was responsible for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
More striking, was that the wealthiest one percent of the global population emitted more than twice the carbon emissions of the poorest 50%. This, due to the consumption ability of wealthier people.
Although the global population has decreased overall, the middle class has expanded and with that affluence, overconsumption problems are getting worse.
Do We Really Need All This ‘Stuff’?
There is such a thing as ‘too much’ when it comes to consumption. Overconsumption practices and use of resources has exceeded the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem.
For every good we buy such as a clothing item, food from the grocery store, technological goods, etc. there are several materials and chemicals required for that goods’ manufacturing, distribution, sale and transportation.
All of these manufacturing, distribution, sale and transportation processes are heavily reliant on raw material extraction, the petrochemical industry and information technology, to of course market, advertise and provide points of sale platforms.
Majority of what is consumed is ultimately going to waste.
Take clothing for example, by the end of a garments’ lifespan, 85% of them, or three out of five garments, are incinerated or end up in landfills as there currently is a gap in industry’s knowledge and capacity to recycle and re-use textiles.
Current technologies have struggled in conceptualising ways to recycle discarded apparel into fibres that can then be turned into new goods. Majority of recycling technology such as chemical digestion or shredding was created to breakdown harsher, durable goods such as glass or cardboard; these technologies don’t operate practically for the recycling of sensitive apparel fibres.
Waste sees a huge jump during holidays such as Christmas and Halloween when holiday traditions are in full swing.
As an example, the act of gift giving tends to hyper-focus on plastic consumption, with many toys, electronics and even the paper it’s wrapped in, comprising microplastics which when ending up in landfill exposes the environment to damaging chemicals.
A few months later, how much of what we buy or were given remains unused, already broken and just taking up space in our houses?
Less Emotion, More Rational Consumption
These days, our leisure time is often spent shopping. Psychologically, there are various hypotheses for this; whether it’s to escape reality, reward ourselves or to obtain material things as a means to increase our self-esteem and status in society.
We have more than ever before in history but we’re the most unhappy we’ve ever been.
Arguably, many of our consumer habits are emotionally driven rather than rationally driven; this, understandably, rooted by traits that make us human.
However, reigning in this emotionality and working towards becoming more conscientious consumers can have a drastic effect on environmental sustainability, as well as driving business to serve the people and planet rather than mere profit.
Some Questions We Could Ask Ourselves:
- Do I really need this thing or just want it?
- Could I get this same product made from more sustainable material i.e., bamboo or metal rather than plastic?
- Can I buy something similar, cheaper if I research a bit more about it rather than making this quick, easy purchase?
- Paying-1438142_1920 by Islandworksat at Pixabay