Monday, October 24, 2005

Consumption in the Developed World

I recognize that my perspective on consumption levels and the responsibility that I believe we need to accept and act upon are not part of the mainstream thinking in our society. One need only walk through a shopping mall in December, or view the parking lot of any "big box" store to realize that most people in Western Society shop and consume with little regard for the impact of such actions. I have often been a part of this group. However, I have discovered what I would call countless "points of light" of action in our city, across the country, and around the globe where people and organizations are expressing their concerns about these issues. And, they are doing something about it. They are talking with their neighbours, their politicians, anyone who will listen. They are teaching their children that there are alternatives to what the marketers are trying to sell us. They are writing letters, and they are changing their behaviour.

For those of you who are old enough, think back to the early 1970's. Any public meeting room would have been filled with cigarette smoke. You would have been scorned as a fringe activist who wanted to curtail personal freedoms for suggesting a ban on public smoking. How times have changed. In one generation those who advocate public smoking are viewed as being on the fringe. I believe that we can similarly change the public's view on thoughtless and irresponsible consumption.

We have our work cut out for us. Our society devotes billions of dollars of resources annually into mass media campaigns. We are constantly bombarded with the "shop 'til you drop" marketing message. This advertising assault is put together by some of our most creative minds. Their sole purpose is to convince as many people as possible to purchase their product: Whether we actually need it or not. I find it an immense challenge every day to fend off the constant appeal of advertisers.

Marketing is based on the assumption that there is no limit to what can be produced, and what society can consume. Marketers do not accept that there can be a limit. They do not have a vision of a future where a customer is satisfied and doesn't need anything. That is the time to create another need. Will The Gap be satisfied when everyone is wearing a pair of their jeans? Of course not, they will simply convince you that what you purchased last year are out of fashion, and you need different styles depending on where you are going. An so it goes on.

The marketing of toothpaste is another excellent example. A generation ago our society successfully solved the problem of providing very inexpensive dental care with fluoride toothpaste. However, since there wasn't a lot of money to be made producing toothpaste the marketers then convinced us we needed different tastes, and different kinds dispensers. We needed them with cartoon characters for our kids. They provided the same service, but often at twice the cost to the consumer and much greater profits for the producer. Most recently we have been bombarded with the "need" to whiten our teeth with white strips. They don't make our teeth healthier, but notice how much better you look! The marketers create a need, we line their pockets with our money, and the planet groans under the weight of the waste we generate.

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