Consumerism and Sustainability

In a packed Council Chamber, Andrew Simms, Policy Director and head of the Climate Change Programme for the New Economics Foundation, was joined on stage by Solitaire Townsend, co-founder and CEO of Futerra, a sustainability agency, pioneering new methods in marketing and corporate responsibility.

Andrew, first to the podium, gave an eloquent, if less than direct argument, based upon the need for a fundamental re-gearing’ of the way in which we live. Consuming differently, he asserted, will not solve the problem: we simply need to consume less. Talking about the steady growth in consumption and consumerism in recent years and how this has had a detrimental impact upon us, he argued passionately for ‘an economics of better rather than bigger’.

Strutting to the floor in a dazzling red pair of Jimmy Choos, Solitaire Townsend played her part well. ‘I am a consumer,’ she said. It was obvious that she would not be parting easily with her material possessions for the good of the planet.

To the contrary, Solitaire advocated celebrating and embracing consumers into the green movement. She said that the majority of the population are status seekers, therefore allying green initiatives to a perceived increase in social standing will ensure their uptake en masse.

Solitaire went onto shoot herself in her exquisitely clad foot, by revealing that a friend of hers had attached solar panels to the north facing side of her roof, so that they could be seen from the road!

Once the Chair, Jonathon Porrit, had opened the debate to the floor, the rather enthusiastic and well-informed audience started to pick away at each of the arguments. One remarked that status is an ‘individualistic, elitist and competitive phenomenon’ and therefore incompatible with the collective action that is needed for long term sustainable development. This was a point that both Andrew and Solitaire agreed upon. Values would have to be assessed in the long run, she conceded, but time needs to be bought by use of fast acting status incentives. In a darker turn to her rhetoric, Solitaire went on to echo one audience member’s call for ‘aggressive, manipulative propaganda’.

The debate was finally brought to a close with Mrs Townsend performing an impressive round of audience rebuttals, before Andrew summed up his view. He stressed an adaptation of the aspirational model to the problem of climate change was essential, rather than the other way round. Unsurprisingly then, an agreement was not forged but the session nonetheless highlighted the crucial importance of choosing the right way to skin this particularly big cat.

Solitaire Townsend with her Triodos Award
for best ethical entrepreneur’
Photo: © Triodos Bank

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