In short, the whole concept of industry’s dependence on ever faster once-through flow of materials from depletion to pollution is turning from a hallmark of progress into a nagging signal of uncompetitiveness. It’s dismaying enough that compared with their theoretical potential, even the most energy-efficient countries are only a few percent energy-efficient. It’s even worse that only one percent of the total North American materials flow ends up in, and is still being used within, products six months after their sale.
That roughly one percent materials efficiency is looking more and more like a vast business opportunity. But this opportunity extends far beyond just recycling bottles and paper, for it involves nothingless than the fundamental redesign of industrial production and the myriad uses for its products. The next business frontier is rethinking everything we consume; what is does, where it comes from, where it goes, and how we can keep on getting its service from a net flow of very nearly nothing at all – but ideas.
- Paul Hawken, Environmentalist and Author, Natural Capitalism, (1999) p. 81
Many of those in affluent societies spend time chasing stuff and many of those in marginal communities spend their time dreaming of going to an affluent society to chase stuff. Stuff is not the solution; stuff is the problem. We have a crisis of value which no amount of stuff is going to solve. Marketing is there to trick us into believing that more stuff will lead to happiness. The next fashion season, the latest sports car, the latest iPhone, iPAd, android, big screen TV, etc, etc… This dangling of the carrot keeps us on the treadmill of consumerism, which keeps manufacturers busy, keeps resource extractor busy, all of which keeps destroying the planetary ecosystem and enslaves people.
Figure 1: Collage of expressions from environmental writer George Mobiot’s story The Gift of Death
Figure 2. Story of Stuff (Source: Considerwhat’s Blog )
We live in a man-made world and every single man-made object that populates this world has a story behind it. Watch Annie Leonards great series of cartoons on “stuff” and see how our obsession with consumerism is leading this planet to the edge of destruction. Some critics say overpopulation is the real culprit. A recent article by environmental writer Fred Pearce, however shows that consumerism by far outweights the effects of overpopulation.
The story of where the raw materials came from
The story of the pollution that was created to manufacture it
The story of the energy used to produce it: to extract the resources and to drive the physical, chemical, biological processes that make the final object
The story of the consumer demand that brings it into existence in the first place
The story of where stuff goes after it’s short lifetime has expired