A few months ago, we posted about a WWF-UK report that predicted the "green" consumer craze would eventually hit a wall. According to the report's author, Dr. Tom Crompton, the marketing approach to green products, green lifestyles and individual small steps, when "sold" to consumers using the same kinds of pitches used for most other commercial goods, didn't run deep enough to change an individual's core values or true consumption habits. He argued that in fact, the approach could even be detrimental to sustainability – if it simply encouraged more people to buy more stuff.
Identifying the problem was an important first step. The next step – finding a way to appeal to people's intrinsic values, to make them adopt a simpler, less consumption-oriented lifestyle because they truly want that – is more difficult.
Now a friend and former colleague of Crompton's, author and quality of life consultant Jules Peck, has teamed up with Edelman UK CEO Robert Phillips on an independent project meant to produce some of the answers to the question: What will it take to restructure our economy into a system that promotes the well-being of individuals and the environment, while encouraging a voluntary decrease in superfluous consumption?
The result of their study is www.citizenrenaissance.com, a collaborative project that has led to a white paper and will eventually become a book. As they develop the book, they are going to encourage a wiki-style interactive debate to push the conversation even further. In their words:
When we started writing, we sensed that there was something genuinely interesting and powerful in the convergence of three seismic shifts of our time: Climate Change; the awakening to Wellbeing; and the reforming power of Digital Democracy. We see tremendous potential for a major turning point in consumerism as we know it, and our current communications landscape. We seek to engender and facilitate a debate, an accelerator for public conversation to focus on the biggest and most urgent issues of our times.
Peck and Phillips posit that in order to make the economy work for both people and the planet, we must shift the focus from quantitative, growth-oriented measures like GDP and onto measures of qualitative development. They envision a new "Wellbeing Economy" and "Ecological Economy," which will measure and define economic progress in a way that accounts for environmental and social issues, and that can supplement GDP as a central measure of the state of nations.
An excerpt from their work:
It is important to be aware that the idea of merely ‘greening’ consumption will not achieve the necessary absolute reductions in use of resources and creation of waste. The scale and urgency of issues such as Climate Change, ecosystem collapse, energy, water and food famine and poverty are such that ‘slightly better’ just will not do. The crucial part of the above definition of qualitative development relates to the ‘carrying capacity’ of natural systems. These are already overloaded. Achievements like an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 are impossibilities in the context of expected ‘business as usual’ growth.
What is needed, we think, is a shift in developed-country societal focus to psycho-spiritual real needs and away from an approach that attempts to deliver to created desires through relative-materialism. In addition we need to take an approach that no longer makes a god of growth and aims for a steady-state economy.
An economic revolution, and a shift from being passive consumers of products and politics to active citizens seem like they will be positive adaptations in a world of finite resources, a growing human population, and quickly developing societies around the world that are searching for prosperity for their citizens. If you have ideas to contribute to the study, we encourage you to add them to this collaborative conversation.
You can add support to the 2,000 signatories and 43 organizations that are advancing the steady state economy as an economic policy goal at:
Brian Czech, Ph.D., President
Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy