Consumption

Let’s reduce our use of finite resources by eliminating unnecessary consumption, fighting against planned obsolescence, and resisting the forces that are spreading a consumer monoculture worldwide.

Highlighted Consumption Actions
Join or start a neighborhood sharing network.
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Join or start a neighborhood sharing network.

Sharing items with neighbors and friends builds relationships and interdependence, and reduces the environmental impact of buying objects that are rarely used. Recreation and outdoor equipment, tools and kitchen implements are all great candidates for informal sharing networks.

Take action

Get inspired

  • Sharing items is a key aspect of Dama, the traditional gift culture in Mali that forms the backbone of community. Learn more about this philosophy in the Gift Economy page of this Action Guide.
  • The Small Farm Guild in northern Vermont, US, shares farm equipment – cider press, chicken processing equipment, food dehydrator, rototiller, and much more – among local farmers, homesteaders and gardeners.

Join or start a neighborhood sharing network.

Sharing items with neighbors and friends builds relationships and interdependence, and reduces the environmental impact of buying objects that are rarely used. Recreation and outdoor equipment, tools and kitchen implements are all great candidates for informal sharing networks.

Take action

Get inspired

  • Sharing items is a key aspect of Dama, the traditional gift culture in Mali that forms the backbone of community. Learn more about this philosophy in the Gift Economy page of this Action Guide.
  • The Small Farm Guild in northern Vermont, US, shares farm equipment – cider press, chicken processing equipment, food dehydrator, rototiller, and much more – among local farmers, homesteaders and gardeners.
Be part of a gift economy.
Expand Action
Be part of a gift economy.

Gift economies free us to give without an expectation of direct payment, and to receive without feeling indebted. They can help us shift our personal economies from a series of faceless transactions to a web of nurturing relationships. In most societies today, gift economies cannot form the entirety or even majority of our economic transactions. Nonetheless, they can be a vital part of our transition from global to local economies.

Take action

  • Organize a Really Really Free Market – a space for people to get and give away goods completely free of obligations to pay, trade or barter – with Shareable's guide How to start a really really free market.
  • Refuse payment – even in barter – for small goods or services you provide to others in your community. At the same time, explain the gift economy concept. See how long it takes to notice that others are doing the same.
  • Join or start a Buy Nothing Group with the Buy Nothing Project, which facilitates hyper-local gift economies where people offer and request items with no transactions involved. There are more than 5,000 active local groups in 44 countries; if your area doesn't have one yet, the website offers everything you need to get started.
  • Explore the economic, social, psychological, relational, spiritual and cosmological elements of gift economies with Charles Eisenstein's in-depth, self-guided course Living in the Gift.

Get inspired

Be part of a gift economy.

Gift economies free us to give without an expectation of direct payment, and to receive without feeling indebted. They can help us shift our personal economies from a series of faceless transactions to a web of nurturing relationships. In most societies today, gift economies cannot form the entirety or even majority of our economic transactions. Nonetheless, they can be a vital part of our transition from global to local economies.

Take action

  • Organize a Really Really Free Market – a space for people to get and give away goods completely free of obligations to pay, trade or barter – with Shareable's guide How to start a really really free market.
  • Refuse payment – even in barter – for small goods or services you provide to others in your community. At the same time, explain the gift economy concept. See how long it takes to notice that others are doing the same.
  • Join or start a Buy Nothing Group with the Buy Nothing Project, which facilitates hyper-local gift economies where people offer and request items with no transactions involved. There are more than 5,000 active local groups in 44 countries; if your area doesn't have one yet, the website offers everything you need to get started.
  • Explore the economic, social, psychological, relational, spiritual and cosmological elements of gift economies with Charles Eisenstein's in-depth, self-guided course Living in the Gift.

Get inspired

Practice simple living.
Expand Action
Practice simple living.

The cumulative environmental costs of industrial consumer products – from mine to landfill – are astronomical. One of the best ways to reduce our impact is to step away from the destructive pressures of consumerism by consciously choosing to live with less.

Take Action

  • Learn how to "live more on less" with this action plan from The Simplicity Institute, which has many more materials on simple living and resistance to consumerism.
  • Find non-consumerist ways to celebrate holidays – from Christmas to Passover to birthdays – on NewDream.org.
  • Learn about the benefits of downshifting – breaking the work-and-spend cycle – from LowImpact.org.
  • To fight consumerism and help build a “hyper-local gift economy”, find or start a local group of the Buy Nothing Project. Also check out the book by the project’s founders, The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan.

Get inspired

Practice simple living.

The cumulative environmental costs of industrial consumer products – from mine to landfill – are astronomical. One of the best ways to reduce our impact is to step away from the destructive pressures of consumerism by consciously choosing to live with less.

Take Action

  • Learn how to "live more on less" with this action plan from The Simplicity Institute, which has many more materials on simple living and resistance to consumerism.
  • Find non-consumerist ways to celebrate holidays – from Christmas to Passover to birthdays – on NewDream.org.
  • Learn about the benefits of downshifting – breaking the work-and-spend cycle – from LowImpact.org.
  • To fight consumerism and help build a “hyper-local gift economy”, find or start a local group of the Buy Nothing Project. Also check out the book by the project’s founders, The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan.

Get inspired

Policy action: Eliminate single-use plastic.
Expand Action
Policy action: Eliminate single-use plastic.

Plastic is suffocating the entire planet, and affecting all of its inhabitants. Urgent action is needed to reduce and eliminate single-use plastic, and this can done most effectively at a scale that meets the severity of the crisis, through public policy steps.

Take action

  • Upstream (US) provides sample policies – at the local, state and national levels – to require reusable foodware for in-site dining, take-out, and delivered meals.
  • Join #SkipTheStuff, a US-based campaign organized by the National Reuse Network, to enact policies requiring restaurants to “ask first” before adding unnecessary stuff to your take-out order – straws, plastic utensils, condiment packets, napkins, etc.

Get inspired

  • In 2019, the European Parliament passed a law banning a number of throwaway plastic products, including single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks), single-use plastic plates, plastic straws, cotton bud sticks made of plastic, oxo-degradable plastics and food containers, and polystyrene cups. The law won overwhelming approval, with 560 MEPs voting in favor, and only 35 against.

Policy action: Eliminate single-use plastic.

Plastic is suffocating the entire planet, and affecting all of its inhabitants. Urgent action is needed to reduce and eliminate single-use plastic, and this can done most effectively at a scale that meets the severity of the crisis, through public policy steps.

Take action

  • Upstream (US) provides sample policies – at the local, state and national levels – to require reusable foodware for in-site dining, take-out, and delivered meals.
  • Join #SkipTheStuff, a US-based campaign organized by the National Reuse Network, to enact policies requiring restaurants to “ask first” before adding unnecessary stuff to your take-out order – straws, plastic utensils, condiment packets, napkins, etc.

Get inspired

  • In 2019, the European Parliament passed a law banning a number of throwaway plastic products, including single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks), single-use plastic plates, plastic straws, cotton bud sticks made of plastic, oxo-degradable plastics and food containers, and polystyrene cups. The law won overwhelming approval, with 560 MEPs voting in favor, and only 35 against.
The Big Picture

One reason modern economies are so environmentally destructive is that they must keep growing, forever. This means that consumption, too, must increase without end. But in highly industrialized societies, most people’s material needs have already been met. How are they convinced to keep consuming more and more stuff?

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The solution hit upon in the 1920s involved sophisticated marketing and advertising methods aimed at creating a “psychic desire to consume.” [1] These techniques make us feel inadequate if we don’t have the newest gadget, wear the latest fashion, drive the coolest car. Even if we have a closet full of clothes, in other words, we’re still induced to go shopping for more. 

A related solution is known as “planned obsolescence” – products intentionally designed to be replaced after a year or two of use, even when they could be made to last a lifetime. Some companies make it almost impossible to repair their products even after a minor malfunction. In other cases there’s something even more nefarious going on: many printers, for example, have been designed to stop working after a predetermined number of copies are made. There’s nothing wrong with the printer – it has simply been programmed to stop working. [2]

Combine technological innovation with sophisticated advertising campaigns, and you get another form of obsolescence. The smartphone you buy this year – so much more advanced than last year’s model – will seem woefully inadequate when you hear about next year’s even more advanced model. As one tech writer put it, constant innovation means that “in two years your new smartphone could be little more than a paperweight." [3] 

Planned obsolescence works so well for industry that 150 million cellphones are discarded in the US every year – most of them ending up in landfills or incinerators. [4] Apply that to all sorts of technological products, and it’s easy to see why e-waste is growing so rapidly.  In fact, 2019 set a record for the amount of e-waste generated worldwide: 53.6 million metric tons of discarded phones, computers, appliances, and other gadgets. [5]

Reducing the environmental toll of consumerism will require, among other things, active steps to break free of the “psychic desire to consume”. Because advertising is so effective at promoting the idea that consumption is the key to happiness, it’s important to reduce our own – and especially our children’s – exposure to advertising whenever possible.   

We can also reduce consumption by repairing the products we already have when they break. This Action Guide includes projects like community “repair cafes” where broken goods – from electronic devices to appliances, clothes, household objects and more – can be brought for repair. It also describes some of the efforts to stop corporations from making their goods difficult or impossible to repair. 

Another way to reduce consumption is by sharing ownership of costly goods that we only use occasionally – like cars and pickup trucks, power tools, farm and garden implements, and even some household appliances. A number of projects described in this Guide aim to make such sharing easier. 

Local economies can be highly effective at meeting people’s real needs, but they are not suited to satisfying the artificial desires created by the consumer culture. For that reason, strengthening communities and local economies goes hand-in-hand with reducing unnecessary consumption. The initiatives in this section of the Action Guide aim to do both.

References



[1] Stuart Ewen, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976).

[2] David Schrieberg, “Landmark French Lawsuit Attacks Epson, HP, Canon And Brother For 'Planned Obsolescence'”, Forbes, Sept. 26, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidschrieberg1/2017/09/26/landmark-french-lawsuit-attacks-epson-hp-canon-and-brother-for-planned-obsolescence/?sh=38806b2a1b36

[3] Andy Walton, “Life Expectancy of a Smartphone”, Houston Chronicle, http://smallbusiness.chron.com/life-expectancy-smartphone-62979.html

[4] Nathan Proctor, “Americans Toss 151 Million Phones A Year. What If We Could Repair Them Instead?”, Cognoscenti, December 11, 2018. https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2018/12/11/right-to-repair-nathan-proctor

[5] Justine Calma, “Humans left behind a record amount of e-waste in 2019”, The Verge, July 2, 2020. https://www.theverge.com/21309776/record-amount-ewaste-2019-global-report-environment-health