Consumption – Linear to Cyclic with the Power of Us!

by christinaarose on November 25, 2016 - 7:56pm

The article titled “Overconsumption is costing us the earth and human happiness” by Celia Cole offers an in-depth analysis of the 2007 documentary titled The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. The documentary broke the internet explaining the truth behind the psychology of consumerism and how the United States economy became purely based on resources. Leonard describes the consumption process as a linear system that starts with extracting resources, to production, distribution, consumption and then disposal. This system has been perceived at only face value for many years. Leonard started her study on this topic nearly 20 years ago and there has not been much that has changed. We are stuck in this linear system that only leads to destruction not only to our environment, but to our human well being as well.


This linear system has been engrained in humanity since the industrial revolution. Materialism stemmed from the end of the war when incomes began to grow and people began to value the variety of products offered in the store. This continued to grow through the beginning of globalization and now, we still see it on a grander level with a growing population. But both the video and the article emphasize the destruction overconsumption has on mental health. This assumption was brought to light in both Tim Kasser and Robert Putnam’s work as mentioned in the article; “Kasser identified levels of anxiety and depression, while Putnam argues we’re paying the ultimate price for our consumeristic tendencies with the loss of friendships, neighbourly support and robust communities” (Cole, 2010). We are born into the world to contribute to society, to get a job that we typically do not like to possess things of all sorts that we are never satisfied with. We are fueled by advertisements that provoke us to have the newest and best product.  In lecture, we learnt of two forms of environmental governance – economic and informational instruments. As much as economic instruments were once focused on the products to buy, it is now more about how much quality their products provide. We put green certified companies on a pedestal because with enough informational instruments, the consumers of today value a responsible company. Yet, this neoliberal angle of environmental governance is still not enough.


So, what could be a solution? Informational instruments such as corporate social responsibility reports and public shaming are important to our process of change but are limited in exposing what goes on in the third world. We have managed to use up 1/3 of the world’s resources when half of the world is being exploited to provide them. Our neoliberal angle of green certifications pose potential problems as it places smallholder companies at a disadvantage without consumer’s being informed on that matter. We must remember that we can vote with our dollar but large corporations have more dollars than we do with more influence on a broken market. Green certifications are not inspiring the innovation we need to turn this linear system to a cyclical one. Leonard has faith in the innovation of a cyclic system which could take many forms such as a waste-free way of life. Leonard herself lives with six other households who all share their resources – pretty cool! So, let’s take this into our own hands as it is our own happiness at stake. We can change consumption patterns with a little innovation.