The Power of "Collective Consumption Statements"
On a typical day, you, as an open minded and generally aware person will be confronted with various situations where you are reminded of how bad you and your lifestyle can be. This can be exhausting.
In the morning, many of us have the choice: Take the car, bike, or public transport. If you decide for public transport you are looking around yourself, heads down, everybody is staring at their smartphone. You remember the article you read last night about how smartphones and internet usage are one of the largest contributors to climate impact because the data usage (power supply for the servers), frequent production and replacement of these devices.
Anyway, you take out your phone and use it. Opening up your Instagram account you will find many posts of people showing off their green lifestyle. Your friend proudly posts about his bicycle vacation through the neighboring country instead of flying to Bali this year. Your other friend is posting his new wooden toothbrush.
Your train arrives at the main station and you crave for a coffee. Damn, forgot your refill-cup at home. Buying a to-go-coffee in a plastic cup? Really? No, better not.
In the evening you are sitting with your family at dinner and you are explaining to your kids that it is not the best idea to only eat sausage because on the one hand it is a dead animal which probably didn’t have the best life and also it is wrapped in plastic.
Sitting on the couch you have the news on. You are reminded that your country has theoretically used all regenerative resources after only 6 months. Meaning you and your fellow humans have used more than the world can recover and we theoretically would need more planet earths to allow for our lifestyle. The documentary you watch afterwards talks about the how the Mediterranean Sea is dying from all the factories on its coastlines (LINK).
Oh my god! Sometimes I feel totally overwhelmed by all the choices we have to make against or for something on a normal day. Let's just refer to it as “sustainable burnout”. Sometimes I wish it all wouldn't matter and I could just do what I want to do. On the other hand I know that it is important to change certain things in my lifestyle. I know that this overload in information and reminders are actually a good thing.
Trying to make a positive impact often seems so irrelevant. Buying a wooden toothbrush instead of a plastic one? Can this really change anything? Going to work by bike while car corporates report increasing global car sales every year – that's not even a drop in the bucket. Deciding for the bike holiday while a survey found out that the people voting for the green political party in your country are the ones booking the most flights? It all seems so irrelevant. It really does...
Let me tell you a story what kept me staying positive. We started our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to find out if other runners would also like the idea of having more sustainable running gear. Until the campaign started, the discussions we had with suppliers and manufacturers were often hard. Sometimes they were not taking our idea serious, which made it tough for us to get them on board and made us feel nervous during this process. However, after the campaign kicked off and went well and we were able to show them that many people backed our idea, these discussions started to sound different. The questions we asked were taken seriously. The companies made efforts to find a solutions to problems we brought to the table. For example to use a different dying process to color textiles. To use different materials. To avoid poly bags in shipping. Etc. We realized, that the bottom-up process worked. Asking questions led to changes. Of course, not always, but sometimes. And choosing a factory which powers all their machines with solar energy over a factory which does not is also sending signals.
Well, this doesn’t stop here. The companies we are working with are also working with other companies – their suppliers. In the end, the decisions all the Kickstarter backers made collectively were a strong statement. We used this statement to ask for change at our suppliers. This request for change was handed even further down the value chain.
All this made me see it with my own eyes – things are moving. Even if they are moving on a comparably small scale – they move. It is not that me and you will have a plastic free running shirt made in an ethical way and without plastic packaging in the process. It is that the suppliers in the value chain received the signal: hey, we can earn money while doing things differently.
Now, what is the one most important ingredient for change?
In our opinion it’s what I would call “collective statements”. While I like people standing up against something and go out on the street for a demonstration, I believe that collective consumption statements will have a bigger impact. We can’t deny that we are all part of the capitalism that brought us the wealth (and misery) we are living in today. So we need to make use of the most important weapon of capitalism: consumption.
It is different if 20,000 people sign a petition that they are against the usage of one-time usage coffee cup vs. if 20,000 people decide to buy a re-usable cup for 20 Euro. The petition is landing on the desk of a politician who may think about mentioning it in his next talkshow. The collective purchase will lead to further actions down the value chain and also, it will probably get some press attention. If it gets attention from the press, the message will spread. If it spreads further and further the most important ingredient for change will come automatically: consciousness.
If something can change the consciousness of a person, it will change their actions in the long-term. And remember, managers of large companies are humans and can be conscious.
Now, you may think: “what? This guy is asking me to consume more? I better should stop consumption at all and only sip coffee at home.” Yes, you are right. Stopping consumption would be a great idea. But is this realistic? Even if you become a minimalist who cuts down on everything, you will be an exception. All the other people around you will proceed consuming things as before.
If you jump on the train with other like minded people and consume different but smart and together with others, this will send a message into the value chain. The trigger for change. If the different participants in the manufacturing value chain receive those messages from different sides, they will change their processes.
Simply because they want to meet their customers desires, simply to earn more money.