Thoughts from The Worldwatch Institute


The Worldwatch Institute’s Annual Report for 2010 observes that most Americans consume their not inconsiderable body-weight of natural resources every day. At that rate of consumption, the planet can, they claim, support only 500,000,000 people. http://www.worldwatch.org/sow10

Unfortunately, travelling the world as I do, I know that most of the so-called ‘developing world’ aspires to the American consumption driven lifestyle. It’s the business narrative of the last 20 years: Chinese, Indians, Brazilians et al seeking to raise their standard of living by joining the consumer society. And there’s several billion of them.

So what if electric cars, probably the biggest step in any environmental direction right now, are really solving the wrong problem? What if the real issue isn’t to moderate the impact of consumption, it’s to limit consumption altogether?

As advertisers, that ought probably to make us shift uncomfortably in our seats. We are supposed to be ‘want creators’ after all. And, at the very least, it’s likely that most of our clients will expect sales to be going up, not down.

So what’s the way out?

– Could durability become fashionable?

– Will we have recyclable houses, not just recyclable milk cartons?

– Will we start to prefer the idea that we should rent or share cars, and that it’s somehow uncool to want to own them?

If everything happens that Worldwatch imagines, we will be unlearning the very idea of what success means in a consumerist society.  Impossible? Maybe not. There was a society before before consumerism, so no doubt there will be another one that comes after it.

We live in exciting times.

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