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Consumerism is Key to Solve Climate Change Equation
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Blog...Consumerism is Key to Solve Climate Change Equation

Consumerism is Key to Solve Climate Change Equation

Green News
Global Warming
brown paper shopping bag
In this article, we’ll explain what consumerism is, why it is detrimental to the environment, and how we could alter our current consumerism habits to create a more sustainable future.
Green News
2023-10-10T00:00:00.000Z
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brown paper shopping bag

In 2023, consumerism has become the new norm – but it wasn’t always this way.

If you showed someone in 1959 the newest Apple Watch, they would be in awe of its ability to track your heart rate and answer phone calls – but someone today would realise that it is only a precedent for future gadgets to come.

However, what is most concerning about consumerism today is how it will continue to have an impact on climate change – but why?

In this article, we’ll explain what consumerism is, why it is detrimental to the environment, and how we could alter our current consumerism habits to create a more sustainable future.

What is consumerism?

Consumerism refers to an economic theory that without the inclination to purchase goods and services one does not need, that economic growth would never flourish. This is because if people only bought things when they needed them, businesses would never see the revenue that they currently do – such as Nike selling sneakers. 

Think about it – how many times have you gone into a Nike store because the soles of your shoes are completely worn out and the laces entirely frayed? Odds are, you went into the store because you saw some shoes that caught your eye – and not because you were in dire need of a new pair.
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girl shopping

👉 Without consumerism, countries with capitalist economies such as the United States, would suffer – as depicted during the Covid-19 pandemic when the U.S. handed out stimulus checks to “stimulate” the economy. 

Consumerism can most easily be recognised and defined as whenever someone has the desire to purchase something that is already working fine – such as a new winter jacket or watch.

It is viable to presume that the excessive consumerism that we know today started with the Industrial Revolution – as it ignited the belief and passion amongst human beings that more productivity and creating will bring success and happiness. 

👉 However, it is important to note that consumerism gradually made its way into society – such as with ads during World War II that would entice Americans to buy products that convinced them would be useful in the midst of war.

world war ii ads

What are some examples of consumerism?

Consumerism refers to any purchase that is made when it is not absolutely necessary – which means that practically anytime you go shopping to the mall when you have some “cash burning a hole in your pocket” can qualify as practicing consumerism.

For instance, if you are one of the people that follows fashion or make-up trends and sets out to buy a new jacket or mascara even if your old jacket isn’t worn out and the old mascara tube is still full – you are subject to consumerism.

It is important to note that just because you are an avid shopper, it does not mean that you are contributing to consumerism – some people may shop smart and only when necessary, which doesn’t make them subject to excessive purchasing. This is the same concept as just because someone is vegetarian, doesn’t mean they love to eat vegetables.

Other examples of consumerism include:

  • Buying a new laptop, smartphone, smartwatch, or headphones before the old technology device has died;
  • Upgrading to a brand new car with the latest back-up cameras or speakers even though your old car is still relatively new;
  • Seeking luxury travel and transportation even if you don’t need to take a trip right now;
  • Purchasing unnecessary home decor or presents during the holiday season, especially during Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas.

👉 Unbeknownst to most, consumerism is one of the major contributing factors to climate change – as billions of tonnes of ribbons, holiday cards, and trite gifts are thrown away in the U.S. every year, with even enough paper to fill ten football stadiums.

holiday cards

What is the relationship between consumerism and climate change?

The relationship between consumerism and climate change may not be evident. However, the reality is that even if you aren’t a business owner responsible for hundreds of tonnes of carbon emissions on an annual basis – your consumerism habits probably still contribute to climate change. 

Psychology isn’t off when it claims that much of our behavior is learned rather than intrinsic to our genetic being. In other words, humans have learned to consume in excess – it isn’t a trait we are biologically born with.

In fact, mankind's primary instinct is survival – which ironically, is the antithesis of consumerism. 

Think of it this way – a homosapien would have been plenty content with the discovery of a fish pond that had enough fish to feed themselves; amazed at the discovery of its existence. A human today would not be satisfied with that one pond, or that one species – as people today crave variety and novelty at unprecedented paces.

Therefore, consumerism has become a learned behavior – one that becomes more difficult to shake the more companies take advantage of their customers for profit. For example, according to a survey by CIRP – 45% of Gen Z iPhone users aged 18 to 24 replace their iPhone before the two-year mark. 

As a result, people end up tossing their “outdated” cell phones even if they remain in perfectly working condition – and with over 5 billion mobile phones thrown away in 2022 alone, it’s clear that consumerism is linked to this type of superfluous waste.

👉 Evidently, it isn’t necessary to replace a smartphone every other year – but consumerism has convinced us that we are missing out on vital features if we don’t upgrade, even when that isn’t the case.

Every time you make any sort of unnecessary purchase, whether it be a laptop, set of wrapping paper, pair of boots, or shower curtains – if your old item is still functioning, it means your purchase ultimately contributes to excessive consumerism and therefore climate change. This is because once you buy the new item, the old item has to be disposed of – often creating excess waste that otherwise wouldn’t have been created.

person shopping for clothes

What consumerism patterns need to change if we want to battle climate change?

If we want to lessen the impact that consumerism currently has on climate change, we need to start sending a new message to the everyday consumer. However, considering the way marketing works in countries like the United States – this won’t be an easy task.

If you’re American – think about the last time you went to the grocery store. You walked in only to pick up one container of hummus, but when you walk by the section – you see that there’s a deal to buy two containers of hummus for $5 instead of paying $3.49 for a single container. Even if you don’t need the second hummus, you are automatically enticed to buy a second one for the value. However, if you don’t end up finishing the second container – you’ve now contributed to global food waste, deeming your “value deal” to be not as beneficial as you thought.

The problem with enticing sales such as these is that they encourage customers to buy more of what they need, and this predicament is especially apparent in the United States – where it’s next to impossible to go shopping without being presented with some sort of special offer or discount. This is one of the many reasons why the average American produces five times the amount of carbon emissions in comparison to someone from another country.

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👉 Did you know that in the U.S. it’s common for the cashier to ask you if you want to apply for a credit card specifically for their store in order to receive a discount? This serves as another well-known example of consumerism. 

Ultimately, marketing tactics must change if we want to persuade consumers that they do not need to buy things unless they are essential to their basic needs – but consumers themselves will also need to be more mindful when shopping as it is unlikely that these marketing mechanisms will change overnight.

marketing strategy

How can we effectively stray away from the consumerism habits we have grown accustomed to?

We know that the way products are advertised and put up for sale will need to change in capitalist countries if we ever want to bring the consumerism epidemic to an effective halt. However, seeing as this is unlikely – it will be up to the shopper themselves to make wiser decisions when pursuing what’s on sale. 

👉 First off, it’s important to note that retail therapy doesn’t need to stop entirely, but change the way in which we engage with spending for pleasure does. In other words, we should seek to change the way we make “guilty pleasure” purchases and aim to rationalise them. For instance, spending money on an experience with your friends or family could prove itself as a more valuable impulse buy than a new face cream you’ll later decide you dislike. 

One of the biggest industries plagued by consumerism and its poor environmental impact is fashion. As fast fashion slowly makes its way out of the foreground, consumers will still be responsible for making an effort to reduce their redundant shopping habits.

As they say in the fashion world, “If you haven’t worn it in a year, let it go” – which is due to the fact that if someone hasn’t thought of or used something in their everyday life for more than 365 days, the likelihood of wearing it in the next year doesn’t improve.

In fact, it has been researched that up to 50% of clothes don’t ever leave a person’s wardrobe – further demonstrating how consumerism has dictated much of our spending habits. In order to rectify this, clothing shoppers should strive to methodically think through a purchase. An example question could be, “If you buy this new dress for your friend’s wedding, how likely is it that you’ll wear it again to another event?” – and if the answer is no, the purchase is probably not worth the negative consequences of consumerism.

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clothes then and now thumnail

As for companies, it’s still possible to advertise and convince customers to buy their product without encouraging consumerism. For example, eco-friendly trade-ins are a good incentive. However, it’s best to offer even more value for customers for those who can prove they haven’t bought a new laptop or smartphone for a considerable amount of time – which yes, would mean well more than two years in between a tech upgrade. 

In addition to this, some countries with capitalist economies could benefit by implementing some socialist values as an option – such as healthcare to lessen the financial burden and demonstrate the value of being granted access to basic necessities to curb consumerism. 

Ultimately, it is clear that consumerism will continue to contribute to excessive waste and greenhouse gas emissions – and while we wait for the media to catch up to speed, it’s time for you and your business to play your part and remain mindful when making new purchases.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about how your company’s consumerism habits could alter the current mechanisms you have in place to slow climate change has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

It can be difficult to identify which consumerism patterns are most detrimental to your company in the midst of climate change, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help! Click here to book a demo and get personalised expertise on how you can start to reduce your own emissions and decrease your environmental impact.

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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