10 approaches to tackling over-consumption

Wheeling a shopping trolley around a supermarket
'There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed,’ said Gandhi – but how much does each of us need?
What’s needed is dramatic, far-reaching and systemic change

‘More’ is the simple answer that is drilled into us subliminally and overtly in Western and, increasingly, most less-industrialised countries. If everyone in the world lived like the average European, we’d already need three planets to live; if it were an average American we’d need five planets. Consuming has become a culture – what with the Government urging us to shop for the nation and businesses designing goods for built-in obsolescence. What’s needed on all fronts to bring us back into the realm of one-planet living is dramatic, far-reaching and systemic change.

Becoming an ‘ethical’ consumer is the first step in this direction. This means putting principles into action every time we use our pocketbooks. But delving deeper into the idea of consumerism ultimately takes us to a point where happiness comes from how little we own, not how much.

The Story of Stuff
A resource for all ages, this fact-filled 20-minute film is the ultimate primer on how our consumption affects communities and the environment. It reveals in plain language what most governments and corporations don’t want us to know – the enormous impact that comes from the manufacture, use and disposal of most of the world’s consumer goods.

Ethical Consumer
Shopping smart means knowing what’s behind a label. The Ethical Consumer Research Association, a 1988 workers’ cooperative that promotes the ethical use of consumer power, produces Ethiscore reports – buyers’ guides to products ranging from baby food to broadband, rating manufacturers, giving detailed company information and measuring a wide range of ethical criteria.

Rainforest Action Network
Knowledge inspires action. ‘If a tree falls in the forest, and no-one is there to hear it we make noise,’ says RAN, which has repeatedly and successfully mobilised consumers in direct action against destructive policies at such corporate giants as Citigroup, Boise Cascade and Goldman Sachs. The resultant changes in corporate policy have saved millions of acres of forest around the world.

A better, more progressive business model, and one that puts people and the planet ahead of profit, Fairtrade ensures producers get a fair price for their work and that resources get channelled back into the community. It brings consumers closer to the producers behind their goods, and, as a recognisable and widely available label, has enabled people to vote with their feet when buying coffee, tea, cotton, bananas and a range of other certified products.

Voluntary Simplicity
Living simply does not mean sacrifice. ‘Sacrifice is the modern-day consumer lifestyle, overstressed, overbusy and overworked,’ says Duane Elgin, an ‘evolutionary activist’ who has explored the practical and philosophical meaning of simplicity. Voluntary Simplicity, the book and movement he launched in the 1980s, is an ‘alternative path ahead that enables all of humanity to live more lightly upon the Earth, while at the same time experiencing a higher quality of life,' he says. It’s about finding aliveness in our relationship to everything.

Clean Clothes Campaign
In terms of the labour behind clothes labels, three out of every four garments sold in the West have come from a poor country, and there are some 100 million garment workers toiling away worldwide. CCC is an alliance that includes trade unions and NGOs in 12 European countries, and is demanding answers from the world’s largest retailers as to how they make their clothes so cheap. Can it have anything to do with poverty wages for the garment workers, unpaid overtime and repressive working conditions?

We live in a time of unprecedented abundance but our planet isn’t happy and neither, it seems, are we. Becoming an ‘enoughist’ means asking yourself ‘how much is enough?’ and then developing a sense of ‘enough’. Enough: Breaking Free from the World of More by John Naish includes the nine questions that need to be answered before you buy that thing.
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99

Most corporations exist to make money for shareholders, but not so co-operatives, which are member-owned initiatives – meaning no outsider investors take profits. They include the Co-operative Bank, Phone Co-op, and food-buying groups such as Suma.

Get Swapping
Eschew the cult of the ‘new’ – if you can’t make do with what you’ve got then why not swap it? For general goods there are websites such as Ooffoo and Virtual Skips; for books there are the likes of Bookmooch and for clothes, Posh Swaps.

Church of Stop Shopping
Why not a bit of humour to liven up the anti-consumerist mission? reverend Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping is a musical and environmental tour-de-force. Backed by a full gospel choir, many mortals hearing reverend Billy’s sermons for the first time have had a life-altering experience. Driving demons out of Starbucks cash registers and singing the praise of independent shops and small communities, he asks prophetically, ‘what would Jesus buy?’

Canadian anti-consumerist website and magazine advancing ‘the new social activist movement of the information age'. With its situationist principles, ‘subvertisements’ and social marketing campaigns (Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week), Adbusters: Journal of the Mental Environment is a backlash against the $450-billion-a-year advertising industry in favour of a ‘clean mental environment’.

What’s needed is dramatic, far-reaching and systemic change

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