Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Sustainable Consumer

Let's take a journey through the life of an average consumer, in a developed country.

Let's name her Sandra.

Sandra lives in the suburbs of an urban city alone and loves her city life. She drives everyday to her office. She buys coffee on her way to work everyday and also buys a water bottle on the way back, for the drive home. Her wardrobe changes from one fashion season to the other. Her old clothes mostly end up in the trash bin as she gets lazy about making a trip to the op-shop. Her home decor items too land up in the trash bin from time to time, as she gets bored of them easily and also wants to keep up with the latest trends in interior designing.  Her weekly groceries comprise of a majority of items that she buys on instinct and recklessly. A significant proportion of the edible items expire before she has a chance to eat them since she lives alone and only has limited food requirements. She only buys fruits and vegetables that look spotless, similar to the ones shown on the popular cooking show 'Masterchef'. Sandra doesn't believe in buying refills for items such as hand soaps, coffee jars etc., since she gets good deals on buying bulk of new bottles of hand soap and coffee jars. Eventually she finds her house too cluttered and on one Sunday cleaning session, she relieves the house of a large quantity of undamaged items, to make it look a bit more presentable.

No prizes for guessing, the above is not an example of a sustainable consumer. Although you might scoff at Sandra and condemn the way she lives her life, her habits are quite similar to a majority of the people living in developed countries. Due to the growing economic prosperity of developing nations, many of the people living in the urban cities of India and China, are no different. In fact, new found wealth in these countries is propagating the consumerism culture at an alarming rate.

If you would like an idea of what your impact on the planet is, calculating your Ecological Footprint would be a good idea. The Eco Footprint measures the impact of your demands, on the Earth's resources, thus giving a rough estimate on whether or not the planet can sustain your current lifestyle.

Take the test here-

I am nobody to preach, my own footprint shocked me the first time I took it. How could I, an environmentally conscious person have a lifestyle that requires more than 1 Earth to sustain? But the purpose of this is not to sink into depression and guilt, but to get a reality check. We need to objectively analyse our current consumption patterns, identify what places are having the most impact and deduce ways in which we can reduce this. Living a more sustainable lifestyle not only saves the planet its resources, but also leads to savings. I can say from personal experience that the concept of saving money was much more popular in our parents' generation than in ours. Sandra for instance, goes from pay check to pay check, splurging her money on things she doesn't need, with minimal savings.

Small changes in our lifestyle can ensure that we have a lifestyle that the planet can sustain. Instead of buying a new coffee cup each day, take a reusable cup, that can be used each day. Similarly, say NO to the nuisance of plastic bottles. Fill your bottle from home, it saves money and reduces the unnecessary over-flooding of the landfills. Try car-pooling and making a trip to the local farmers' markets. Food miles is a major issue on the topic of sustainable living. Is it really necessary that our food has to travel thousands of miles, burning all that carbon dioxide, decaying all the while, only to be artificially freshened up right before it reaches our mouths? Why not support your local farmers and have food that is locally sourced and healthy? Another issue in relation to food sustainability is the amount of food that is discarded each year on the basis of it not looking cosmetically appealing. Referring to the above example of Sandra, who only chooses fruits and vegetables that look spotless- this trend is rather alarming amongst a lot of consumers. A lot of edible food produce reaches the landfills each year because of notions amongst consumers that just because they have a few bumps and are rough around the edges, they must be rotten. Bear in mind that we are exhausting our food supplies at an increasing rate and acute food shortages are faced by numerous countries, each day, all around the globe. We cannot possibly afford to throw away food that could sustain a sizeable population, because of ridiculous standards of cosmetic presentation of food perpetuated by the media and shows such as Masterchef. Furthermore, 'bulk-shopping' is another trend that must be fought by consumers and avoided at any cost. We as consumers get tempted by the clever marketing tactics of supermarket chains. The 'buy 2 get 1 free' offers are often too hard to resist. However more often than not, we land up buying things we don't need (to make a point to people, we don't care about). The only people benefiting in this vicious cycle are the already wealthy corporations.

Sustainability is all about driving change and the first principle of driving change is to start with yourself. 

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