The holidays are an important time to think about consumption, specifically, the impact that our own consumption has on the environment.
Consumerism is related to consumption but it describes a particular worldview related to our consumption patterns. Everyone must consume resources like food and water in order to survive. Such resources are critical to human survival. However, we also consume resources for personal enjoyment, such as for entertainment and leisure, or maybe to treat yourself, or a friend with a gift. When people purchase goods and services, we refer to them as consumers.
The majority of us are consumers. Whether we are the end-users of the product or not, each and every purchase that we make has an impact on the environment. Being aware of this and acknowledging our consumption patterns is important for sustainability because everything we consume requires materials and energy from nature.
Consumer spending is on the rise worldwide. This is largely due to the fact that many countries depend on, and encourage increasing consumerism, as a vessel for economic growth. Every day, especially around this time of year, we are bombarded with advertisements asking us to consume more. As our consumption increases, our expectations keep growing and we keep accumulating more things. Today, the United States has almost 50,000 self-storage facilities with 2.5 billion square feet of storage space available (90 square miles). People are running out of space to store their own possessions, yet, our consumption still continues to increase.
One key element fueling this cycle is, many of us rarely see the effects of our buying decisions. Materials are extracted from faraway locations, goods are often produced in factories miles away from where they are consumed, and the majority of us never see the landfill where our used goods go. Therefore, changing our consumption patterns for the better requires us to think more critically and maybe even do some extra research.
What many of us fail to realize is, our entire economy and society operate within nature. We cannot use more materials or energy than nature can provide, nor can we generate more waste than nature can transform or absorb. When we stop and take a minute to think of a purchase as part of an interconnected system, we are able to make purchases that contribute to a safe, just, and sustainable world, for all.
Before we decide to make a purchase, we should all ask ourselves, where do these materials come from? Where was this good produced? By who, and at what cost? And lastly, what impact will consuming this have on the environment?