As a Marketing student I was more than intrigued by the opportunity to gain insights into why we aim at satisfying certain consumption needs along with what is behind our mounting appetite for novelty in terms of drivers and consequences for the environment.
One might argue that the notable interest that we show in organic products and energy efficient household devices is a sign for societal trends towards sustainability. However, by stating that these tendencies are just the “top of the iceberg”, researchers address the two sides of the coin and make us look simultaneously at the context of everyday consumption acts and the social practices related to them (1).
Our behavior as consumers is undergoing radical changes due to the ever-evolving patterns of intrapersonal and socio-cultural communication, spawned by easier travel, satellite communication links, the Internet, etc (2). I am sure that you will agree with me when I support the view that we tend to use products to tell a story, to fulfill our desire for belonging while enhancing a particular social status:
The consumption potentialities suggested in class indicators are realized in status groups; life-chances are transformed into lifestyles (3) – these thoughts of Fisher, shared 30 years ago, struck me with the question:
Are we getting even more overwhelmed by the status-driven conspicuous consumption, now that we have all the tech advances and sophisticated market offerings we use as a language?
I highly recommend watching the TedX speech of Tim Jackson, an ecological economist. The image below shows the carbon intensity of current economic growth and the carbon target that we need to meet to be able to serve the needs of 9 billion people in 2050 (4). As stated by the UK Committee on Climate Change (2010), a step transformation in both tech innovations and consumer behavior is required as the emissions reductions are going a lot slower than needed (5).
Tim Jackson, 2009
While encouraging us to make a realistic check of whether we are actually capable of achieving this (which is 10 times further and faster than anything we have ever achieved in Industrial history), Tim stresses on the vitality of those enterprises that have ecological and social goals written into their constitution and heart. In line with this view, at the WBCSD I had the honor to observe how organizations are actively working towards REDEFINING a more meaningful sense of prosperity with a focus on GROWTH… only when growth is necessary.
The powerful equation of IPAT reveals the factors causing environmental degradation by taking into account population growth, consumption per person and impact per unit of consumption (6). And while we are all aspired to get hold of the latest gadgets, the global economy (through manufacturing, transporting and marketing of these gadgets), along with CO2 levels and energy consumption continue to rise (7).
How can we control that appetite while incorporating sustainability issues into our behavior?
By Yolina Stoyanova, 25th April 2018
- Jaeger-Erben, M. and Offenberger, U. (2014). A Practice Theory Approach to Sustainable Consumption. GAIA, 23/S1(2014), 166-174.
- Douglas, S. P., & Craig, C. S. (1997). The changing dynamic of consumer behavior: implications for cross-cultural research. International journal of research in marketing, 14(4), 379-395.
- James E. Fisher (1987) ,”Social Class and Consumer Behavior: the Relevance of Class and Status”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 492-496
- Jackson, T. (2009). Prosperity without Growth. London, Earthscan.
- Shove, E (2014). Putting practice into policy: reconfiguring questions of consumption and climate change. Contemporary Social Science, 9(4), 415-429.
- Commoner, B., M. Corr, and P. J. Stamler. (1971a). The closing circle: nature, man, and technology. New York : Knopf.
- The University of Melbourne.(2012). Scientific Scribbles: Are we consuming the Planet to Death?