While we might automatically think this means the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts, look up the dictionary and discover it also means to protect and inform consumers by requiring such practices as honest packaging and advertising, product guarantees, and improved safety standards.
Living in a society bound up in perpetual cycles of consumerism, working, shopping, failing to get the ‘happiness reward from the goods we buy’ and then repeating yet more work to raise more finances to buy more stuff and on and on…
We’d like to thing that ‘consumers’ make informed decisions when we purchase goods or services? BUT… Do we consider the whole lifecycle of the product when we lift it from the shelf in the shop and place it in our basket? Is it possible to see beyond the brand, image and packaging to know if there are human rights issues, child labour, safe working practices, environmental damage, etc.
The reality for the vast majority of our purchasing decisions is that they are based on other factors. Price, Opportunity Cost, Trying to mirror the actions of our peers, etc. Rarely do we switch bank, energy company or actively look up comparison websites that go deeper than price comparison!.
FairTrade and Organic are two labels we easily identify with and producers/suppliers work hard to protect their accreditation to these schemes and similar campaigns. But there’s a lot of Green-wash out there too. Manufacturers are only too happy to say something is more environmentally friendly, greener, sustainably sourced, fair priced, etc. when they really are not.
An artificial problem, an easy solution.
Consumerism can be linked to many social and environmental issues around the world, such as Climate Change, inhumane working conditions and endangered species. Therefore, the questions that everyone should be asking are, is it worth it? can we do something about it?
There are many different ways to reduce the negative effects of our consumption. From stopping to buy things that we really don’t need, such as new clothes every new season, to buying ethically branded products such as fair trade.
There are many websites where we can learn what companies are the most ethical, which products create more environmental issues and what alternatives we have for buying new goods.
It is our responsibility to know the consequences of our actions, and now it is easier than ever. You will find plenty of information online about consumerism, below are a few examples:
Ethical consumerism and the power of having a choice / voice : Jason Garman at TEDxTeAro