Consumerism can be defined as a way of life based on the accruement of luxurious goods and extravagant experiences. In today’s society, this lifestyle reflects all-important attributes such as status, affluence, and power. Consumerism sets into motion a range of global repercussions but for the purpose of this argument, let’s focus on its effect on the planet.
In early 2011, Japan faced a nuclear disaster when the Fukushima power plant was hit first with an earthquake and then a tsunami. At the very same time in South Africa, thousands of elephants were being slaughtered for their tusks. By the end of the year, radiation from the Fukushima plant continued to seep into the surrounding atmosphere and the earth had lost more than 30,000 elephants.
It could be argued that the nuclear tragedy was a consequence of corporate mismanagement or that elephant poaching existed well before ivory was commercially traded. Indeed, the culpability of consumerism often hides behind these façades. Reality is both events are intricately linked to our consumerism. Consumerism exacerbates originally sustainable demands to dangerous levels. Instead of operating responsibly, nuclear plants are pressed carelessly to meet our energy mandate and instead of living and dying in the cycle of life that is an innate part of the animal kingdom, wildlife is systematically exterminated for our material pleasure.
WWF’s Living Planet Report from 2008 states that “globally we are consuming 30% more material than is sustainable”. Deforestation in the Amazon is one example. As the “Lungs of the Planet”, the Amazon Rainforest produces 20% of the world’s oxygen and is home to half the world’s flora and fauna. Due to activities taken to meet consumption demands, one fifth of the Amazon is now gone forever. Instead of protecting this hen of golden eggs, the world has engaged in a reckless competition to pluck out her feathers.
Production also hurts the planet. When factories churn raw materials into consumable goods, vast amounts of waste is created. In 2006, the Amsterdam-based MNC Trafigura dumped 500 tons of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. This poisoned the shoreline causing environmental and human damage that is still obvious today.
The bottom line is that our consumerism IS killing the earth. Driven by an insatiable desire to “have more” we are clinging to an attitude that is ultimately deadly to our planet. Fortunately, this finding presents marketers with a very real opportunity to change habits. After all, marketing has the power to transform beliefs into attitudes, attitudes into behaviour, and behaviour into culture.
Consumerism is often thought to be a cultural paradigm created by marketers but I believe that marketing cannot fabricate realities we do not feel an affinity for. Marketing is an enabler not a creator. People have always competed to build taller towers and don more expensive clothing than their neighbours. This universal attitude of one-upmanship was the foundation of consumerism. Presently, people are beginning to place greater value on the future of the earth. This outlook may become the cornerstone of a new and more responsible era of consumption.