The topic is vast and it is clear that within a capitalist society producers exist to meet consumer demand so whilst much can be done by industry to efficiently use resources and energy and to create decent jobs, their purpose is always to sell more rather than less so it is up to consumers to adopt more sustainable consumption patterns.
A recent report from Havas, the advertising agency, called ‘the new consumer and the sharing economy’ has caught my attention as it demonstrates that consumers are already changing and 70 per cent of the 10,000-odd people surveyed around the globe believe that over-consumption is actually putting our planet and society at risk. Half say they could happily live without most of the items they own. And two-thirds make it a point to rid themselves of unneeded possessions at least once a year. We have entered an age when sharing everything from cars to vacation homes to textbooks to pets has become socially acceptable among those who realise that we have exhausted the planet and ourselves with way too much stuff and responsibility.
The vast majority of consumers surveyed believe our current economic models aren’t working, and yet most are convinced that high levels of consumption are critical to economic growth. To ease their tension over this issue, they’re replacing guilt with purpose by buying products that are more durable and sustainable, sharing rather than owning, and paying more attention to the human elements of transactions.
This research echoes very strongly my current personal experience in redecorating our living room at home. We moved home about 6 years ago, downsizing but a lack of budget at the time meant we brought our furniture with us and forced most of it into a room half the size. It takes time to get round to things in our house but we have now decided it is time to renew the furniture. I should add that budget isn’t particularly an issue at the moment but other factors seem to have over the choices we are making. These factors have been subliminal but the Havas report has put its finger on it. Over the summer Dawn and I were in Brittany with friends and we found ourselves in a bric-a-brac shop and fell in love with some old armchairs in desperate need of renovating. We had no idea how to get them back to the UK but it felt ‘right’ to upcycle something rather than buy new and to know that the money we paid was going into the local economy. The armchairs will shortly be renovated by a craftsman in Surrey helping my local economy too. The living room project has also brought us in touch with local businesses from whom we bought an antique carpet and a lovely new mirror made locally.
Furniture with provenance is our goal, and these purchases are purposeful and represent a more mindful approach to consumption. Just as importantly we have a great story to share with friends (and readers of this blog) and gently challenge consumption behaviour patterns. I wonder if it is time to sell those shares in Ikea?