Conscious Consumerism a Lie?

business_ethics_highlights_2“Conscious consumerism” is an attractive idea. The idea that we all have the power to vote with our dollars regarding the fate of the world is a potentially empowering one. But in practice, things are not so clear. Witness this interesting piece by a sometime promoter of conscious consumerism, one who is now expressing grave doubts. See our comments sprinkled below. >>>

LINK: Conscious consumerism is a lie. Here’s a better way to help save the world
(by Alden Wicker for Quartz)

Parts of Wicker’s commentary ring true. For example:

…Making series of small, ethical purchasing decisions while ignoring the structural incentives for companies’ unsustainable business models won’t change the world as quickly as we want. It just makes us feel better about ourselves. Case in point: A 2012 study compared footprints of “green” consumers who try to make eco-friendly choices to the footprints of regular consumers. And they found no meaningful difference between the two.

The problem is that even though we want to make the right choices, it’s often too little, too late. For example, friends are always asking me where to take their old clothes so that they are either effectively recycled or make it into the hands of people who need them. My answer? It doesn’t matter where you take them: It will always end up in the exact same overloaded waste stream….

Other parts are more problematic. For example:

In short, consumption is the backbone of the American economy—which means individual conscious consumerism is basically bound to fail.

As opposed to what? Consumption — people getting stuff they need or want — is the point of any economy. What’s the alternative ‘backbone’ on offer?

Or this part:

So why do we continue to buy 1.7 billion half-liter bottles, or five bottles for every person, every single week? Because market capitalism makes it incredibly difficult to make truly helpful sustainable choices.

Really? In what possible way does capitalism (in the abstract, or perhaps particular capitalists) make it difficult to turn on a tap? If there’s an argument to be made, it’s not made in this commentary.

Wicker’s final advice, on the other hand, is quite plausible: if you want to save the world, engage in political action.

On its face, conscious consumerism is a morally righteous, bold movement. But it’s actually taking away our power as citizens. It drains our bank accounts and our political will, diverts our attention away from the true powerbrokers, and focuses our energy instead on petty corporate scandals and fights over the moral superiority of vegans.
So if you really care about the environment, climb on out of your upcycled wooden chair and get yourself to a town hall meeting….

What do you think?


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