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Mark Parker: Do We Really Need More Stuff? Sustainable Consumption and Behavioural Change

15 November 2015 – As Christmas rolls round I start to go through the usual process, what should I buy my wife, child and family, what should I say if they ask “what would you like for Christmas Mark” and I wonder if it will snow and whether Indiana Jones will be on the TV...you know, the usual…

Mark ParkerFor me, as soon as the calendar rolls into October it sparks the best part of the year for me. The winter nights draw in, the heating goes on and the comfort food consumption goes through the roof. Within the UK, the best food and drink comes out at Christmas, the supermarket adverts seem to specialise in food porn and I simply can’t help myself.

But, with the end of Christmas comes something altogether more sobering. You’re likely to be a few pounds heavier, your credit card will have taken and absolute hammering and you’re now left with a load of ‘stuff’ people have bought you and you’ve bought others that you don’t really need. Likely, most of it will end up collecting dust on top of the wardrobe or in a charity shop.

However, everything I’ve mentioned above is not new information, we all know this yet we all still do it. I’m 33 now, back when I was in my early 20s I used to think I wanted a better car, house, clothes, watch, girlfriend....yet on my 33rd birthday I had something of a revelation. My wife asked “what would you like for your birthday, Mark?” and I thought, mmmmmmmm maybe a nice watch, or some sort of gadget. However I replied with “an experience”. As you can imagine my wife looked at me in a strange way, “what the hell do you mean an experience” to which I replied “I want memories, not more stuff”

My birthday experience turned into a week of activities from skiing, quad biking, shooting, go ape and being a zookeeper for the day. At the end of the week I had nothing material to show for it, but what I did have was a load of memories. Memories that I can access whenever I want, wherever I want and let me tell you, these memories are priceless to me.

This got me thinking, what is sustainable consumption and does it really exist? The conclusion I got to was, yes it does. How can I say this, well when it comes to sustainable consumption its all about access rather than ownership...

Think about it in relation to my birthday week, did I spend significant capital building a ski slope for myself, buy a quad bike, a gun or build a zoo? No of course not, however by paying to access these resources they don’t need to be built multiple times for each person on an individual bases...all that is needed is just enough quad bikes (for example) to be built to allow the masses to access them at a predetermined date and time. A predetermined date and time to buy things!!! How odd, and will people accept this? Difficult to sell to the masses yes, when we now live in a ‘want it now’ society within the West. As resource becomes an even bigger issue than it is today, consumers will either have to learn to adjust to a ‘collaborative’ model to consumption, or take the pain of being forced to change.

Have I just come up with a multimillion pound idea to save the planet, sadly not. However what I experienced over my birthday week is something that is quickly becoming the next generation of consumption, the sharing economy.

Sustainable consumption is not merely about purchasing goods that are less harmful to the environment but should also involve a reduction in consumption – ‘not more stuff but more satisfaction’.

Literature highlights the extent to which consumption is linked with our identity as human beings. For example, Jackson (2009) suggests that the consumption of material goods has “become embedded in a wide variety of different personal, social and cultural narratives” (p.16). He goes on to claim that “we consume in order to identify ourselves with a social group, to position ourselves within that group, to distinguish ourselves with respect to other social groups, to communicate allegiance to certain ideals” (Jackson, 2009, p. 17).

In the face of this human desire to consume, business models that provide consumers access to goods through rental, lease or sharing as a substitute for ownership may present a means to reduce the burden of consumption on the environment on a scale that can ‘shift the dial’. The use of such models is variously called ‘collaborative consumption’ or the ‘sharing economy’.

So I leave you with this, the next time you’re in the market to make an impulse material purchase, make a change and try an experience purchase and I promise you that the memories you will make will last a hell of a lot longer than your new shoes.


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