Is consumerism compatible with sustainability?

Consumerism inevitably raises economic, social and environmental debates. The production of disposable or easily damaged and perishable goods encourages consumers to replace them in ever shorter times. So, are sustainability and mass production incompatible?

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© Max Fischer on Pexels

Consumerism as a socio-economic phenomenon

Consumerism can be considered as the fuel of the modern economic system. Each of us tends to keep savings to buy a good that will have to satisfy our need. If globalization and consumerism are the pillars of the modern economy, all of us, with their respective needs to be met with more or less essential purchases, are the protagonists, together, obviously, with the manufacturing companies.From a social point of view, the phenomenon of consumerism tends to enhance the figure of those who buy certain goods. In other words, the possession of particular goods will increase the “value” of those who own it.
For a purely social issue, most consumers will want to buy goods of specific brands, which will replace the products previously owned, not because they are malfunctioning, but simply because they are considered obsolete.
For these reasons, consumerism is a fundamental phenomenon for the world economy, but at the same time an uncontrollable phenomenon, which conflicts with the concept of ethical and moral purchase.


The environmental impact of consumerism

From an environmental point of view, consumerism has extremely negative effects.
The logic of disposable or the production of not very durable goods doesn’t guarantee an efficient and optimal use of resources. In this way, an increase in polluting emissions and in the consumption of resources is inevitable to make mass production possible. In the past years, in particular, the design of a new asset was not considered a crucial phase, as the required quality of the products was lower than the current demand. For this reason, the companies’ goal was to produce goods without considering their environmental impact and without evaluating possible disposal and recycling solutions once their life cycle is over. Furthermore, the goods were manufactured without considering repair or maintenance opportunities. Consumerism and the modern economic system, therefore, seem to make the very idea of ​​sustainable development impossible. However, there are solutions to be able to modify the phenomenon making it more controllable and less impactful.


The solutions for a more… sustainable consumerism

In recent years we have been moving from mass production to mass customization. Currently, companies, taking advantage of artificial intelligence, are able to offer specific, customized and tailored products to the consumer’s profile. It is a new frontier of marketing with enormous potential. In this way, production is no longer unrelated, but extremely dependent on demand. Since the products are made to measure for the customer, resources are no longer wasted, but are used efficiently, avoiding waste. In this way, by optimizing the use of resources, the environmental impact of production is reduced. In addition to mass customization, another valid solution is to concentrate research, innovations and investments in the design phase. When a new good is produced, in order to minimize its environmental impact, it would be advisable to design it in such a way as to make it easily repairable, recyclable and extending its duration. In this way, the environmental impact of production will be significantly reduced, since the product will be designed and manufactured to extend its life cycle as much as possible and favoring its recovery, recycling and reuse. The last solution and, probably the most important, does not apply on the supply side but on the demand side. The solution is, in fact, represented by our own behaviors. The biggest changes were introduced by the increasingly demanding demands of customers who were no longer satisfied with standardized products, but demanded higher quality. This means that companies have always adapted to the demands of consumers, who are effectively able to revolutionize business strategies, assuming a role that is no longer passive, but active. With the growth of ethical consumers who are attentive to environmental issues, the number of companies focused on more sustainable strategies and making products that are much longer lasting, optimizing the use of resources, will inevitably grow (as is already happening). Assuming future consumer choices that are more “ethical” and not influenced by social consensus, companies will also be forced to change strategies, creating goods with a longer life cycle, in order not to lose important market shares. So if each of us is the true protagonist of consumerism, then it can also be to stimulate change. Given that the changes in the market and production processes have been triggered not only by producers, but also by consumers, then it is possible, through the commitment of each of us, to modify this phenomenon, making it less uncontrollable, but more sustainable and efficient.

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