The term “wicked problems” describes some of the most challenging social issues of this time. Those problems require a reassessment of success because being successful with wicked problems means making a difference toward them or influencing improved results and diminished risk, even though the problem may never be fully solved.
Consumerism, or focusing on economic improvement based on things people buy, could be another wicked problem.
I’m Marla, the Green Home Coach! My co-host Tony Pratte and I are recording live today at Shock City Studios in downtown St. Louis Missouri!
Many challenges and issues are tied to the topic of consumerism.
Consumerism and waste
One reason consumerism is problematic is that our focus on buying things leads to large amounts of waste. Creating those products also speeds up the use of our natural resources.
Retail in Oklahoma City
I recently read an article about the glory of retail in Oklahoma City, a city dependent on the sales tax generated by the sale of goods. That made me wonder if the same thing happens in other places too, and whether that drives the push for people to keep on buying things.
Each municipality has its source of income that gets written into the by-laws, and the local city governments determine how those funds get used.
Part of the property tax charged by municipalities goes to the fire and police districts, and some of it goes to the county for infrastructures like parks, forests, and museums.
People tend to use a lot more stuff today than they did in my mother and grandmother’s time.
My parents and grandparents
My grandmother grew up in the depression, so she had a waste not, want not mentality. My parents grew up during World War 2 and were teenagers in the 1950s. So they went from a scarcity of materials to a booming economy in the next decade where money and products were abundantly available.
The economy was put back on track in the 1950s by pumping money into manufacturing goods and creating jobs for the soldiers returning from the war.
We were excited when soda came out in plastic bottles because they did not break. At the time, we had no idea of the impact it would have, and how that convenience would later merge with consumerism.
Two kinds of companies
A marketing theory asserts that two kinds of companies exist. One notices a need and develops a product or service to solve it. The other develops a product or service and then creates a need for it.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a growing feeling of coming of age because of all the new products and innovations that were coming out, and people thought they needed those things to have a good life. As life began to speed up in the following decades, people thought they needed more convenience items.
It takes time for society to evolve. Most of the innovations between the 19th and 20th centuries showed up toward the end of the 20th century. Today, innovations are happening all the time.
There are so many more product choices available today than we need. I prefer smaller local grocery stores with fewer items to choose from.
Many unseen costs are associated with everything we buy.
Today, companies should use a circular rather than a linear way of thinking when looking at the things they produce.
We are slowly changing from a linear economy to a circular economy. A circular economy means you remain responsible for the products you have produced throughout the life cycle.
Everything in nature is used. Nothing gets wasted. We can use a similar life-cycle assessment for things we produce.
It’s interesting to see how differently younger generations look at things. There seems to be less emphasis on stuff with younger people.
There currently seems to be less emphasis on things and more on the experience.
A simpler life
Living a simpler life with fewer things to maintain leaves you with much more time to do the things you want.
Flaws in the system
The toilet paper shortage during the pandemic exposed some major flaws in our system.
Consumerism was built on psychology and the understanding of human behavior. The psychology behind buying things is immense!
The amount of stuff people buy is a measure of our economic wellbeing. That will need to change going forward.
We need a solution that does not rely on things being produced, sold, and disposed of but still encourages economic growth.
In the 50s and 60s, things were produced locally and built to last. Jobs got produced around the repair and maintenance of those things. In the 70s and 80s, more imported goods became available that were cheaper, did not last as long, and could not be repaired. Even though those goods cost to buy in the short term, they ended up costing more in the long term because they had to be replaced- often several times.
Many wicked problems stem from short-term thinking. We need to shift from short-term thinking to long-term thinking. We also need to understand the unintended consequences and trade-offs of every decision.
A new normal
During the pandemic, when things were in short supply, people were happy to substitute one thing for another. Now, many people have gone back to wanting what they want again without understanding that they are not in alignment with the new normal.
I urge you to be mindful about the things you use and buy and only use what you need.
Have a great green day!
Links and resources:
Good Better Best: Cutting Your Consumer Carbon Footprint
Flushing Trees Down the Toilet