There seem to be a number of different types of consumption related to sustainability. Here are five of them for a start. There are probably more which I can add later.
Each represents a different attitude towards what we buy and whilst it would be unrealistic to expect people to exclusively adopt one of the more extreme approaches, it would be good to encourage people to incorporate all of them with their spending approach.
If this were to be the case, it would be interesting to develop how you would communicate this in a simple understandable way, so that people can easily understand the concepts involved and know when they are making consumer decisions related to each. An analogy would be the traffic light system for food or ‘5 a day’ for fruit and veg.
Anyway, here are the five types:
- ‘Full Fat’
This is consumption ‘as is’. This is the majority of people buying the majority of what they buy – with no consideration to green or sustainable factors. At its extreme it includes buying goods on a shorter and shorter replacement cycle (think high-street fashion and mobile phones) and owning multiple versions of the things which are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
2. Switch to Sustainable
The same consumption mentality as ‘Full Fat’, but actively switching brands for a more sustainable option. So, buying organic, fair-trade, low carbon etc. So, the level of consumption remains high, but the overall impact is less. Effectively, there is no change in consumer mindset as they are merely brand switching what they would buy anyway, but paying a premium to outsource their ‘sustainable actions’ to the producer. Clever branding and inflated pricing ensures that consumers feel like they are making a big difference.
(Is there is a Guardian article (or similar) in this – about this particular issue – or about this whole piece)
3. Making Things Last
A change in consumer mindset and behaviour by the consumer. Can come in two forms:
- Need not Want – only buy items when the existing one you have for the same use has worn out and/or the cost of repair is greater than the cost of replacement. Requires acceptance and appreciation of older, worn and lived-in items, rather than the desire for new. Can apply well to fashion and technology and when items break down.
- Second-Hand – Buy second hand items. Again a mindset change from the desire for new, but again ensures older items are in circulation for longer, rather than purchasing new ones.
(Addition: there’s Swishing which is quite a cool way to get people to swap clothes)
Shared ownership of items, particularly ones that are rarely used with Car Clubs being the classic example. Requires a consumer mindset change about the notion of ownership. Not sure about the viability of this as a major force.
Not buying, rather than buying. Largest consumer mindset change required as it requires you to evaluate what you really need and the entire concept of consumerism.
Mix & Match Approach
As mentioned, it’s unrealistic and probably impossible to only utilise the ‘Sharing’ and ‘Stop’ options, but it is possible for consumers to employ a Mix & Match Approach based on the 5 options outlined above to their consumption habits.
So, if you use ONS data to explore what people in Britain spend their money on, we can go through the list and identify which approach(es) could be employed within each category of spending.