Tag Archives: consumerism

Story of Stuff

Have you heard of the Story of Stuff? It’s a friendly animated-documentary about the unfriendly issue of consumerism and unsustainable production. Narrated by Annie Leonard and produced in 2007, it’s a fantastically accessible way to learn a lot as the information is presented in a light hearted way with cute animations. It’s free to watch and share, so have a look!


This little gem caused such a stir that it’s now grown into a whole organisation, called the Story of Stuff Project. They’ve since made loads more productions in the same style, such as the Story of Cap & Trade, the Story of Cosmetics, the Story of Electronics (all on their website) and now they’re working on the Story of Change. If you like what they’re up to then why not donate? They don’t charge anyone for the use of their films as they want the message to be flung as far and wide as possible… But that doesn’t mean they don’t cost money to make.

I think this is great because the films, like I said, are really quite easy-watching so the audience is much wider than for something dry, factual and depressing. This is really important because it’s power in number’s and everything… Any way to reach out to the masses is gold dust.

Also, after looking at their website for the first time in a while I’ve been watching the Story of Broke. It’s about how the American government collects everyone’s taxes but then says their too broke to build the better future the people want – the one with more jobs, better health care, clean air and water, and quality education. But of course the USA isn’t broke at all, it’s the richest country on Earth. The only problem is they spend most of the people’s taxes on the military, bailing out irresponsible banks and giving away huge subsidies to polluting and unethical corporations. The short film assures us there is enough money to create the future we want and we have to demand our money is spent on this goal. Here it is:



Supply & Demand and Demand & Supply

People like shifting blame.

There’s a famous psychological study that suggests that the more people witness a victim in distress, the less likely any one onlooker is to do anything. This is because everyone’s thinking ‘’someone else will do something’’. Hmm… Dangerous.

A similar thing happens on a much broader scale with all sorts of issues. Today I’m thinking about it in terms of the demand and supply of non-sustainable or non-ethical, energy-intensive or wasteful commodities. Is it my fault if my stripy jumper that I like so much and which kept me warm in the autumn of 2011 when I couldn’t afford a coat was made in an inhumane sweatshop by an Asian child? Or is it New Look’s fault?

When confronted about their bad practice, whether it’s the high levels of pollution in production or the throw-away nature of the product or some other vice, the response of industry is generally something like: ‘’Oh it’s not up to us. We just produce and sell what the consumer demands!’’. Oh. Really. Well as one consumer to another, I think it’s fair to say that we only buy what’s available. Obviously. How could we purchase items that don’t exist? For example, not long ago people were being urged to ‘do their bit for the environment’ by changing their light bulbs for energy-saving ones. Of course it seems laughably naïve to suggest that just changing light bulbs could amount to anyone’s ‘bit’ – but that isn’t my point. My point is that now in the UK all light bulbs except energy-saving ones are in the process of being phased out. Soon they won’t be ‘energy-saving’ – they’ll be ordinary. This is a step in the right direction! And the step has been taken by the government, by retailers, manufacturers and energy companies. I can’t really imagine the ‘all powerful consumer’ minding too much. Do you look into the near future and see streams of irate customers flooding Screwfixs, Properjobs and B&Qs across England, with placards reading: ‘’Down with low energy bills! BRING BACK THE 60W!’’. Can’t really see it myself…

Of course I’m not saying we’re powerless. Anything but! Among other things, the strategy of ‘voting with your wallet’ is well-known and effective. You can use your money to simultaneously help fund local or ethical businesses and show the rest of the market what would win you over. For example, increased spending on organic food shows the industry it’s becoming more popular and scares agrochemical companies. It causes Tesco to widen it’s organic range and to lower the prices of that range. I guess this is what people mean when they say it’s up to the consumer. But equally, if Tesco were to extend their organic range and make it more affordable of their own accord, it is highly likely that they would enjoy increased sales of organic food. And, if the government stopped subsidizing the use of agrochemicals in farming and instead subsidized organic agriculture because of the benefit to human health (reduced cost to the NHS) and ecological biodiversity (tourism), then organic food everywhere would be much cheaper than non-organic food and practically everyone would buy it exclusively.

So who’s it up to? Well, all systems are systemic and interconnected, with knock-on effects rippling out in all directions. No one seems to want the responsibility, we all agree things should be done – but by someone else. Just bare in mind that everyone’s thinking that. So when it comes to supply and demand or demand and supply, it’s both.

We may have different sized stones but we all have the power to make ripples.

The Psychology of Change

Since the ‘70s, a growing body of people around the world have been sensing and observing that the way we treat our home planet is wrong. Unethical, unworkable, unfair, unsustainable… At first a trickle, then a stream, now a fairly hefty current of “alternative” or “ecologically minded” people are pushing against the mainstream.

What I’m thinking about is, when and how will the balance be tipped?

When will it be normal to live your life within its natural limits, taking the other people, animals and ecosystems around you into careful consideration? When will it be weird to fly to another country for a business meeting? When will coal-fired power stations be the stuff of history lessons? When will it be unusual for a family to have two cars? When will it be weird to cover your garden with gravel instead of raised beds? When will consumerism peak? When will it be seen as uncivilised to waste food? When will it be uncool to wear clothes made by five year olds?

And how will all this come about?

Well, let’s think about human psychology. People copy each other. We copy our friends, and we copy people whom we admire. We admire people who live their lives in a way we would like to, which is of course personal, but in general it’s safe to say we admire people who are successful, beautiful and happy.

We gravitate towards happy people like bees towards flowers. Happy people are more popular, because people enjoy their company. Happiness is contagious.

We also have the mysterious but highly valuable “cool”. Coolness can’t be measured… It’s a slippery notion that can easily slide away if you try to pin it down and study it. However, there’s not much need as what’s cool and what isn’t is generally easily understood by your social circle.

Sustainable lifestyles will become normal lifestyles when people believe that living in this manner will make them look cool and be happy.

Look how happy this nice lady is, doing her gardening...

That’s really what people want. We just want to be happy. Being cool and popular is really just one part of that, because humans are highly social and positive interaction with others helps to make us happy.

So perhaps the way forward is to promote “green” activities not as acts of charity, or righteous self-deprivation, as they often are shown to be in the media, but as normal, positive lifestyle choices that are seen to improve people’s lives.

I’ll admit I’m no wiser as to how to accomplish this, other than that the media has a large role to play as it wields such an influence over society.

The collective ingenuity of the human race is surely sufficient for the challenges we face… It’s just harnessing that ingenuity that’s the problem. Team work, people, team work!

More thoughts on this at a later point…

Bright Green & Rolling In It!

There’s this bizarre thing where all too often you see really ethical innovative products/companies that just aren’t that successful because their marketing, packaging, advertising and general PR just isn’t very good. It’s really annoying. I think it’s because they’re run by people who have admirable passion but little business skill.

Anyway, here are my Top 5  favourite brands that have decent eco credentials AND top it off with coolness. In no particular order, here we go.

1) Method

Man, this is the closest anyone can get to being excited about laundry detergent. I just love the way their website is so clean and cool, and their ‘How to Use’ video is beautiful. They are all smug about having this fancy ‘smart clean technology’ which I’ll admit I don’t entirely understand, but what it means is it’s super concentrated- you have enough for 50 loads of laundry in one little bottle and of course that makes it greener because you’re generally using less stuff. And their totally transparent about their ingredients, which I wish more people were, and 95% of them are natural and renewable. It’s non-toxic and biodegradable (none of that nasty water pollution) and they have a cute and helpful squirty pump thing. This is the future.

2) Booja Booja 

First of all, they’re called Booja Booja. That’s enough to make them awesome. Also their icecream and truffles are mouth wateringly delicious, I especially recommend the raspberry chocolates. They’re all vegan and organic, and they don’t ever sell to supermarkets because they find them unethical. What I love most though, is that in the boxes of chocolates they have these little ‘boojagram’ cards, that say things like: “The universe is an illusion created by women with balloons”. And before you ask, yes, I do collect them.

3) Remarkable

Remarkable are a fantastic company. They make gorgeous stationary like the above notebook from recycled materials like tyres, plastic bottles and waste cardboard. This is why I recycle, being able to see something good and worthwhile coming from it like this. And they’re famous for their conversational quips dancing along rulers and telling you to ‘send me back to my maker’. I might buy one of these today actually I need a new Ideas Book.

4) Life’s Not Fair But My Knickers Are

I have some pajamas from this company and they’re so pretty and soft and comfortable. As you can most likely tell by the name, all their underwear is made from fair trade cotton, which is of course a very good thing. (Incidentally I wrote a very relevant article for my college paper on cotton recently, I’ll post it). I like them because they haven’t fallen into the trap many fairtrade clothing labels do of over doing the wholesome look. Their website has professional looking models doing shoots for the different collections, pulling seductive poses over vintage tables full of dainty china. I like that.

5) Um, Yeah
So when I first wrote this post (waiting for the bus) I intended it to be a ‘Top 5′ kind of deal, but soon came to the sad conclusion I don’t actually have a number 5 that fits my criteria. See this is what I mean, we need more of these kind of companies. Humour and prettiness wins people over, there’s no denying it. I’m hungry for the ethics and style combo, so if you spot any innovative flashes of genius that could be a number 5 on this list, tell me now!
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