Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series submitted by undergraduate students at Loyola University Chicago from a course called ENVS 363: Sustainable Business Management.
We live in an economy that is so deeply rooted in one thing: the dreaded C word, if you will—consumerism. We are constantly giving in to the latest fads and trends, trading in our barely one year-old iPhones for the latest version. As a little kid, I remember my Christmas list always consisting of enough Toys-R-Us catalog cutouts to fill up 3 sheets of paper. I obviously didn’t “need” all of those toys, but I thought I did. We are all under the impression that we need more than we really do.
As citizens of developed countries, consumerism is something we are born into and expected to perpetuate, especially in the United States. In an economy that revolves around the ideal that bigger is better, it is hard to imagine an economy that simply consumes less. If the lifestyles of Americans looked a little more like those of people living in Latin American countries, for example, climate change and environmental degradation would be a lot less of an issue. Rather than constantly consuming, Latin American families are content with less material stuff. The comfort most Americans get from buying and owning is essentially causing our environmental downfall.
We live on a planet with limits. These limits are being tested and the drastic effects of our over-consumption are being seen globally. There are wars over water taking place in the Middle East. We have seen 4 devastating hurricanes in the Atlantic during the span of just a few months. Pollution in China contributes to over a million deaths per year. All of these tragedies can be traced back to our misuse and abuse of our planet’s resources. This needs to change.
Now, I’m not advocating for completely abandoning our lavish lifestyles. I’m proposing that we as a society begin an effort to minimize our buying habits in every aspect. People need to realize that minimizing our consumption not only puts less burden on our environment, but saves money in the long run. If we decrease the amount of material goods we buy, companies and businesses should naturally decrease the amount they produce. When the demand for a product goes down, the supply should follow so that the company doesn’t lose too much of their relative profit.
Think about it - there are alternatives to constantly buying the newest and best things. Instead of buying a new car every few years, we can easily transition to a greater reliance on ridesharing. Companies like Uber and Zipcar are great alternatives to car ownership and work to better the environment by decreasing the amount of automobiles on our roads. Patagonia has implemented a program called Worn Wear, where people can essentially sell their used Patagonia items back to the company to be refurbished and resold. This keeps the clothes in a circular economy and decreases their likelihood of ending up in a landfill. Even Apple, the king of planned obsolescence, offers leasing options where, instead of purchasing the new iPhone, you can “rent it” for a year or so and return it to become reused or recycled.
Each of these companies, and many others like them, are offering opportunities to decrease our reliance on our consumerist habits. Many European countries are already way ahead of the United States in this aspect. Their citizens participate in the sharing economies available to them and simply buy less stuff. The United States and other wasteful countries should see this all as an example. When we demand less of the “new,” global production will consequently slow down, putting less of a strain on our environment and our finite resources. In order for this to happen, we need to change our mindset from one that craves the newest trends to one that welcomes sharing and reusing in the pursuit of a healthier planet.
So don’t buy the new iPhone. The new HD camera is not worth the waste your old one will create. Try leasing it instead to keep it in the circular economy. The planet will thank you.