Assiste-t-on à l'émergence de nouveaux modes de consommation ?
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Article Index
Happiness and GDP
A growing responsibility towards future…
A greener self than society?
50

Innovation is a word more often used in connection to technology, engineering and medicine than to the social, cultural or psychological worlds, and yet, even if the changes in these areas are a collective evolution rather than the pioneering work of a small number of elite workers, innovation nonetheless occurs. The kind of innovation discussed here is that which is evolving to address one of the problems with the society and culture of much of the global North: hyper-consumption. Much of this innovation centres on lowering absolute individual consumption levels, in other words the degrowth of material throughput.

Of course, we must consume to live in physiological and psychological health, and there is no suggestion here to the contrary. Consumption is also a necessary part of the formation of strong social and cultural groups; it is part of the glue that binds us, and allows us to communicate. However, hyper-consumption goes way beyond satisfying these needs, even the social/cultural ones. It leads society on an unsustainable path characterized by dissatisfied individuals, social inequalities, pollution, and the depletion of natural resources. Fortunately, there are many who recognize these issues as being of fundamental importance, and who are innovating at a social level to challenge these norms. It is these pockets of innovation that are reviewed here, following a brief overview of the problem of hyper-consumption and its drivers.

The problems and consequences of over-consuming

There are at least two strands to consider when reviewing modern consumption behaviour. The first is resource use and environmental impact, which have worldwide consequences. Material consumption impacts directly on the environment. Every product purchased has required the extraction, processing and transportation of raw materials, the consumption of energy for manufacture and sometimes use, and finally at the end of a product's useful life (or sooner if fashions change), it is discarded, either to decompose in a landfill site, or to be recycled, the processes of which also require energy. Each of these stages will impact negatively on ecological systems and climate change in terms of land use, materials (biological and mineral), water and climate. The pattern of hyper-consuming resources is seen generally across the global North, with the USA and Western Europe accounting for 60% of the world's private consumer spending, yet total only 12% of the population.

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810

The second strand to consider is the individual well-being factors that result from material consumption. Well-being is a complex concept that has been associated with discourses in mood and emotional state, happiness, eudaimonia

Eudaimonia is a type of happiness associated with virtuous conduct and philosophic reflection favoured by ancient Greek scholars, that retains relevance and interest today.

and physical state. It might seem intuitive to suggest that whatever well-being discourse is adopted, an increase in material wealth and comfort would be supportive of individual well-being. However, as seen in Figure 1, there is no such linear relationship (in this case between happiness and GDP as a measure of purchasing power). Instead, these indicators are 'not measuring the same kind of utility' (Jackson, 2009, p.42).

An analysis of the relationship between the level of satisfaction of people towards their living conditions and their purchasing power shows that at least three types of relationships can be distinguished. While a central group seems happier when their standard of living increases, it appears that both factors are unrelated for two other groups of countries. Below and above a certain level of living standard, the definition of happiness is not only correlated with the capacity to acquire material goods.

One way that the relationship between material goods and well-being has been explored is through assessing materialistic values, which are 'beliefs about the role (and hoped for) psychological benefits of material possessions' (Dittmar, 2005, p. 474), and many researchers have investigated the relationship between such values and well-being. Results consistently show a negative association (e.g. Jackson, 2009; Solberg, Diener and Robinson, 2004).

So far, we have only mentioned the global North for the reason that material consumption here is currently vastly greater than in the South. But it would be wrong to assume that future global consumption patterns will continue to be biased in this way. In absolute terms, China already consumes more than the USA (although per capita, the figure is much lower). However, with the strong emergence of the middle classes in developing nations such as India, it is likely that over time, the disparity between consumption per capita in the North and South will reduce, probably as a result of increased consumption in developing countries, thereby compounding the aforementioned problems. In view of these global transformations, many advocate for the developed world to decrease its material consumption. This trend is reflected in a recent report commissioned by the National Geographic (2012): many people in the world agree with the view that societal consumption needs to be reduced

1,000 individuals in each of 17 countries were surveyed, and 55% overall agreed or strongly agreed that as societies, we will need to consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations.

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In 2012, a large majority of respondents to a survey carried out in 17 relatively wealthy countries in the North and South considered that they were likely to have to reduce their consumption to protect the environment for future generations. The two exceptions to this rule are countries that have been industrialized for a long time - Germany and Japan. Moreover, Germany, India and the United States are the three countries where respondents are less willing to reduce their consumption.

Drivers of consumption

Much has been written about the drivers that sustain these very high levels of consumption, despite the negative ecological, social and individual consequences, and the literature necessarily covers perspectives from multiple disciplines.

Sociological and anthropological perspectives, for example, tend to emphasize the roles goods play in social interaction, their importance as hierarchy markers and the human tendency to converse through the display of material goods, the need for which may be based in the alleviation of deep fears about uncertainty and the need for meaning (e.g. Douglas and Isherwood, 1979/1996; Jackson, 2006a; McCracken, 1988).

Economic models that analyse consumer behaviour and motivations prefer rational decision-making as an explanation for behaviour. These models understand consumer decisions as being based on monetary value, or more likely on the value attached to the outcome (the utility), and are thus part of a wider class of models referred to as subjective expected utility (SEU) models (e.g. Jackson, 2005; Schoemaker, 1982). SEU models have consistently been unable to match observed consumer behaviour, and although they have evolved to enable aspects of consumer decision-making, such as ambiguity (Kahn and Sarin, 1988), to be considered in addition to utility, their starting point of human rationality is a limit to their predictive strength.

Instead we can turn to social psychological perspectives to enlighten us, and the two views considered here are sense of self and emotion. A third consumption driver, the functional qualities of material goods, does of course exist, but is rarely in evidence without at least one of the other two being also present.

Sense of self buying motivations

Sense of self means the range of ways that we relate to and define ourselves. For example, consumer goods can help us with a sense of self-image, can help us define our identity, can make clear our role in society and provide a sense of belonging, can foster self-esteem, can enable us to display our uniqueness, and can give us a sense of self-efficacy and control. Material goods can also help in this arena by helping us to bridge the uncomfortable gap between who we perceive ourselves to be, and who we would ideally like to be (or society tells us we should be).It is not new to consider such issues in relation to consumer behaviour, and there is historical evidence that this has always been a part of human interaction with the material world. For example, not only do we recognize the chief of a tribe in pictures because of his headdress and adornments, but so too would the rest of the tribe recognize his superior status from these material items. To illustrate our relationship with material goods, let's explore an example taken from a group of compulsive buyers. Although compulsive buying affects just 6% of the adult population (Koran et al., 2006), their patterns of behaviours and what drives those behaviours can be thought of as simply an extreme version of normal buying

Compulsive Buyers are addicted to buying, and are characterized by experiencing the impulse to buy as irresistible, feeling a lack of control, and continuation of the extreme buying behaviour despite the adverse consequences that ensue.

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Mrs C is divorced with three children, is overweight and has low self-esteem. She had a good career before having children, but now feels lost for a sense of who she is aside from being a mother, a role in which she feels a failure. Mrs C is a compulsive buyer, driven in part by her belief that owning the right goods will enable her to be a better mother. So she addictively buys kitchen equipment, since this represents being a carer for her children. She also buys huge quantities of clothes, since she feels the need to look like a smart capable mother and because when in a shop, she believes that anything she tries on makes her look slimmer and thus reduces her psychological discomfort caused by being overweight. For a brief moment at least, she can increase her otherwise low self-esteem and actually function somewhat normally in the world. Mrs C is very affected by advertising; she takes on board the belief that she needs to obtain the goods being advertised to be happy, attractive and successful.

Mrs C's case may seem extreme, but she does exist (although some details have been changed to protect her identity). Many of us will recognize aspects of her situation, since we all buy material goods for what they enable us to communicate to others in our social groups, to a sub-culture, to those with similar hobbies, to let strangers know about our class, status, sexual appeal or availability. And this is not wrong, it is part of being human. But with a global population at the highest ever level (and growing), we can no longer afford to take it for granted that we can continue to use material goods in this way. Especially when in our modern Western societies, we mostly have multiple identities and roles to support, there are new products brought to market continually, we have a dynamically evolving range of sub-cultures to be navigated, and the insecurity this brings increases our need to feel in control and self-efficacious, which is something material goods can also help provide.

Emotional drivers for consumption

The second of the psychological motivations for consumption originates in emotions, moods or pleasure. These can generically be called affect-motivated consumption drivers, and are not entirely separate from the self and identity-motivated consumption drivers discussed above: it feels good when we have higher self-esteem, when we feel connected to others, or when we are displaying our uniqueness.

The well-known modern cultural phrase, retail therapy, encourages us to seek therapeutic solutions in shopping and buying activities. As Dittmar (2004) stated, 'anxiety, feeling bad about oneself, and depression are all common mood states for which buying and spending becomes a form of self-medication' (p. 426), often with low mood being a trigger for a shopping trip. While many others have also written about the 'repair' potential of normal consumption (e.g. Cohen and Areni, 1991). Seeking consumer-related activities in this way is not abnormal or necessarily pathological, and can be adaptive in many circumstances. However, if consumer-related activities are used 'as repetitive, compulsive, and undifferentiated responses to a wide variety of emotions and experiences' (Barth, 2000, p. 271), and the underlying affective issues are not resolved, then it is unlikely that long-term meaningful psychological improvement is possible through consumption alone.

To understand why consumer activities are sought to alleviate such negative mood states, it is easiest to approach from the perspective of the positives that such activities bring. The first is the social activity of shopping, which has become a significant leisure pursuit in Western cultures, especially for women (e.g. Bloch, Ridgway and Nelson, 1991). Shopping facilitates social interaction, either with friends, family, or with sales personnel, and this provides positive affect from the feelings of connection, and from the alleviation of boredom (e.g. Dittmar, 2004; O'Guinn and Faber, 1989). Secondly, there is emotional involvement in the shopping itself which provides positive emotional states. This comes through experiencing the atmosphere and buzz prevalent in the shopping environment, and in the actual process of buying (e.g. Goss, 1993; O'Guinn and Faber, 1989). In fact, both individual stores and shopping malls are specifically designed to induce stimulation, pleasure and meaning, such that shopping even without an actual purchase can still provide hedonistic value (e.g. Donovan and Rossiter, 1982). A third type of emotional involvement in shopping comes from direct contact with the goods themselves. Browsing, touching and trying on goods can all induce positive sensory and emotional responses. And finally, the ownership of goods can serve affective needs by their symbolizing of ties, both with others and with one's personal history (Kamptner, 1989).

Mrs C's compulsive buying was fuelled by affect-related issues, in addition to the sense of self matters discussed above. She described being at the mall as like 'being in a Disney world, everything sparkles', and entering it enabled her to escape her perceived drab world. Her tendency to depression was lifted by purchasing goods, especially clothes. She did use the shopping environment to bring social connections into her life, but for her it was only with sales staff as she was too ashamed of her addictive shopping to include friends or family.

Psychological drivers of consumption: the limits of the concept

Discussions on the positive affective gains associated with consumption, especially where pleasure is mentioned, usually include hedonism as a possible driver. The hedonistic pursuit of material goods presupposes that the ownership of said goods will provide pleasure, and are not sought for their utility value (e.g. Campbell, 1998). Hedonistic consumption includes the positive affect-motivations discussed above, but also entertainment, fantasy, escapism and perceived freedom and thus includes the imagining of pleasure, the dreaming of scenarios that fulfil desires, and the commodities that will enable these to occur (e.g. Arnold and Reynolds, 2003; Gabriel ''& Lang, 2006; Hirschman, 1983). Consequently, as with much of the discussion on consumption drivers, there is crossover between the motivations rooted in self and identity, and those coming from affect, since the desired scenario may be connected to an ideal-self image. While much about consumption does appear to be the pursuit of pleasure, the dark side, as described by Gabriel and Lang (2006) is that such a quest involves aggression, dissatisfaction and proves ultimately futile. Nevertheless, it exists and persists for many individuals as being a key part of their drive to shop.

It is important to remember here that there is a significant amount of consumption that is ordinary, inconspicuous, and functionally motivated, and is therefore far less influenced by the identity or affective drivers mentioned. For example, although for some there are significant symbolic or affective gains from buying insulation for their house in terms of feeling better about reducing energy bills, keeping one's family warm, and being seen as part of a non-consumerist and responsible social group, for most, the motivation for installing insulation is functional and economic, and there is less involvement of psychological factors in the decision-making process.

It is also worth remembering that this discussion on consumption drivers is just one way of viewing this complex field (for some other views see Gabriel ''& Lang, 2006), and is probably only relevant within a global North context, or within the wealthy elite and emerging middle classes within the global South. For example, Hahn (2012) interpreted comments by Campbell (1998) whereby in less affluent societies, locally produced goods are seen as good because they satisfy needs, whereas imported goods are considered to be harmful or at least useless luxuries. This originates in thought now over 15 years old, and it is unclear whether these same perceptions are still perceived within less affluent societies, but if nothing else, this illustrates how assumptions based on a Northern context cannot be automatically extended to the developing world. Even the ways of researching and defining key terms of consumption could be markedly different within the global South context. And it is important to avoid the obvious 'the South should learn from the North' type of rhetoric, since the North clearly has not got consumption right, and consumers in the global South are not passive, and do not simply replicate Northern consumption patterns.

In general too, most discussions about consumption are largely restricted to the middle classes, and neither the wealthy elite nor the working classes are much considered, apart from a common rhetoric around working class desire for the material comforts of the middle classes. But according to observations by Wilk (2006), hedonistic consumption in particular (consumption for pleasure and immediate experience) is probably more a working class and wealthy elite type of behaviour, more so than the careful, saving, responsible middle classes. At least the wealthy can usually afford their binges, whereas the working classes are frequently deeply in debt and may make regular use of payday loan shops.

A review of sustainable consumption modes

In recognizing the current and potential future problems associated with lowered individual well-being, and the social and ecological unsustainability of Western consumption, many have been working towards sustainable consumption, starting in earnest in the mid-1990s. Sustainable consumption has been defined in many ways (see Jackson, 2006b). In essence, definitions include the need to reduce the scale and impact of consumption. Although definitions are crucial, of more importance for this chapter are the means by which the scale and impact of consumption can be reduced. Three potential solutions are generally offered. Two are within the bracket of changing the essential consumption that must occur for physiological and psychological well-being: an encouragement towards pro-ecological consumption, for example, buying organic produce; and pro-social consumption, for example, buying fairly traded goods or from local suppliers. The third entails the lowering of absolute consumption levels through encouraging frugal consumer behaviour. In essence, these could be seen as innovative ways to approach consumer behaviour.

The emergence of global sustainable consumption networks

There are several initiatives encouraging changes to consumption patterns that are pro-social, pro-ecological or encouraging frugality, and most are not distinctly one of these types of sustainable consumption to the exclusion of the others. For example, a community-based social movement that is gaining worldwide momentum is the Transition Network, which evolved out of the 'twin threats' of peak oil and climate change (Hopkins, 2011), and seeks to build resilience into communities. Among other things it is unique in crossing the traditional boundary between production and consumption, for example by encouraging community sharing of resources, growing and sharing local produce, and building sustainable homes. There are currently over 1,100 Transition Network initiatives in more than 43 countries.

www.transitionnetwork.org

This reconfiguring of lifestyles and livelihoods could be seen as social innovation at the grassroots level (Coke, 2013) and is encouraging the emergence of values such as collectivity, inclusivity, equality, autonomy, collaboration, communal self-provisioning, practical creativity, learning, optimism and enjoyment (Coke, 2013). This crosses the three types of sustainable consumption listed.

Another initiative for sustainable consumption is Slow Living, which includes categories such as Slow Food (encouraging people to buy locally and taking care in what and how we consume food), Slow Travel (living in a destination community, as opposed to short stays in a holiday location).

www.slowmovement.com

It is almost impossible to gauge the scale or impact of the Slow Living initiative since it consists of advice, opportunities to connect, and the presentation of an ethos, rather than a subscription or another tangible measure. Only the scale of the Slow Food movement can easily be assessed, since the website itself claims having 65,000 members in 42 countries.

www.slowmovement.com/slow_food

The development of pro-environmental and pro-social food supply chains

Probably the most often considered types of pro-environmental or pro-social consumption is the consumer choice to buy local, organic or fairly-traded products. This often, but not always, relates to the purchase of food. Primarily these choices are a reflection of several different values or factors, including the desire to support local businesses and traders; an aspiration to limit transportation miles; a wish to ensure that pesticides and fertilizers are not harming the consumer themselves, the land, the water supply or other non-target species; perceived superior taste; or a sense of fairness directed towards the farmers and supply chain for goods that cannot be grown locally. Often these goods are more expensive than their imported, non-organic, traditionally traded competitors, and therefore the consumer choice to buy these is based on non-economic factors. These goods are reliant on consumer trust in the schemes that certify produce as being organic or fair trade. The Soil Association recently reported that in 2012 the sale of organic goods was worth €2 billion in the UK, €3.7 billion in France, €6.6 billion in Germany and €21 billion in the USA. Globally, organic sales increased by 25% between the start of the economic downturn in 2008 and 2011.

Organic Market Report 2013, Bristol: Soil Association.

The UK fair trade market was worth €1.8 billion in 2012.

www.fairtrade.org.uk

Reinvention of frugal and collaborative consumption patterns

Frugal consumption as a concept encourages the limiting of expenditure on consumer goods and services through showing acquisitional restraint and resourcefulness in using items (Lastovicka et al., 1999). It is commonly considered congruent with deprivation, but can more accurately be considered as a 'sacrificing of whims for the sake of obtaining a more worthy goal.' (Lastovicka et al., 1999, p.87). The emphasis is on careful purchasing (e.g. buying in bulk), resourcefulness and increasing the longevity of products, and many ingenious tips circulate within this community regarding reuse. There are also initiatives such as Buy Nothing Day

www.enough.org.uk

, a day of boycotts, events and abstention from purchasing, which now takes place in over 50 countries.

The concept of collaborative consumption has also gained a foothold, whereby items are shared between a number of residents, businesses or members. Here the utility of goods is maintained, i.e. as a means of transportation, but the way of obtaining the utility is changed, i.e. car pooling, which usually involves lowering ecological and financial costs. According to Botsman (2010)

See Rachel Botsman, 2010 TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_botsman_the_case_for_collaborative_consumption.html

, there are three types of collaborative consumption. First, there is the redistribution of unwanted goods to others who may need them, rather than sending these goods to landfill or recycling. Examples include web-based initiatives such as peer-to-peer bartering, goods-swapping, Ebay, Craigslist and Freecycle, as well as the more traditional flea markets and charity shops. One common practice in this category is the passing to family and friends of children's clothes and toys, which is often accompanied by a discourse about waste due to the limited longevity of use as a child grows and changes, and is common even among social groups that can well afford new items. Secondly, there is a collaboration of lifestyles, as in the sharing of money, skills or time. And thirdly, there are product service systems, where members pay for the benefit of the product without needing to own the product outright, which is ideal for goods with high idling capacity, like cars and power tools.

There are undoubtedly other schemes, initiatives and movements in Northern and Southern contexts that have sustainable consumption at their core, or as an ideal outcome. It is impossible to capture them all here, but merely to offer examples and flavours.

Responsibility: with consumers or producers?

These alternative forms of consumption that are based in some way on sustainable consumption ideals require informed, energized and principled consumers. Many argue that it is the producers who should assume more responsibility for the sustainability issues of environmental and social damage, and resource use, and that innovation should be here, rather than with consumers. Clay (2010) argued that sustainability should be a pre-competitive issue, since producers can leverage more effectively than consumers.

Jason Clay, WWF, 2010 TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_clay_how_big_brands_can_save_biodiversity.html

Arguably it is already producers that are more active in this field, certainly within Europe, with the growth of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) targets and reporting. If globally the CSR impacts and initiatives grew in number and scope, it is possible that sustainability could really become a pre-competitive issue, thereby reducing the responsibility placed on the consumer, aside from the consumer's need to monitor the volume of their purchasing.

These pockets of activity are currently just that, and a trip to any shopping mall across the developed world will soon convince even the most ardent optimist that for many, hyper-consumption based on seeking material goods to fulfil emotional and sense of self (or other) needs is the norm, and no thought or effort is invested in educating themselves about pro-social or pro-environmental options or brands. However, general changes within what is available to the consumer means that some dematerialization may occur regardless of any loftier ideals. An example is the way that music and books are bought, stored and consumed. Downloaded digitized music offers a carbon saving of between 40% and 80% compared to a typical CD in a jewel case (Weber et al., 2009). As Botsman (2010) put it, the digitization of music (as an example) 'enables needs and experiences to be fulfilled without the stuff', in other words, we want the music not the CDs, and so usage trumps possession. This is all part of an ongoing dematerialization that technological innovation is helping to support.

The impact of sustainable consumption initiatives

The increase of sustainable and green engagement

It is very difficult to estimate the scale of these consumption patterns that are attempting, either by design or coincidence, to encourage sustainable consumption. Some report that most consumers are not demanding more sustainable forms of consumption.

See More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency. World Economic Forum, 2012.

But the recent survey commissioned by the National Geographic (2012) shows that environmentally friendly consumer behaviour has increased from 2008 levels in all but one of the 14 countries that were polled in both 2008 and 2012. The scope of the report's environmentally friendly consumer behaviour is transportation patterns, household energy and resource use, consumption of food and everyday consumer goods, and what consumers are doing to minimize the impact of these activities on the environment. Thus, although absolute levels of engagement in sustainable consumption are virtually impossible to obtain, there is some evidence to suggest that engagement is increasing. What is also interesting about this report is that the most engaged consumers are in India and China, and the least engaged are American and Canadian consumers. Additionally, though, it is likely that individuals consider themselves to be greener than they in fact are, and this may apply to many of those engaged in the social innovations and initiatives described above. The study conducted for National Geographic in 2012 shows that in all countries, individuals feel that they are more environmentally friendly (on average two times more) than their society as a whole.

Beware of the rebound effect: sustainable consumption does not automatically reduce social and environmental impact

It is also interesting to question whether engagement in sustainable consumption behaviours does actually reduce social and environmental impact. Again, this is very difficult to establish definitively. There is evidence that intentions to engage in sustainable consumption behaviours can trigger guilt when 'lapses' are perceived (Armstrong, 2012). And where frugal behaviours have become more prevalent day-to-day, this can simply lead to more money being spent elsewhere, such as in booking a foreign holiday. Thus, although consumers may be observing frugality in one sector, in a macro sense, frugality is not achieved. As explained in Chapter 3 of this book, this is known as the rebound effect, or backfire in instances where emissions actually increase from the alternative behaviour. Druckman et al. (2011) undertook a study where three different behaviours were considered in light of the possible rebound effect. They were: reducing internal temperatures by 1°C; reducing food expenditure by one third by eliminating food waste; and walking or cycling instead of using a car for trips of less than two miles. The study found that carbon savings could be as high as 88% if the money saved is invested in low carbon intensive behaviours/commodities, or could result in backfire if invested in high carbon activities, such as activities requiring gas, electricity or other fuels. Under 'business as normal' conditions, the carbon saving is only 66% of the total that could be achieved. This is sobering indeed.

Scaling sustainable consumption

Alongside the difficulties in establishing the scale and possible savings of sustainable consumption behaviours, there are also difficulties in understanding how these behaviours could be scaled through individual, collective or political means. Most suggestions involve engagement of the producers and retailers rather than consumers. For example, a World Economic Forum report suggested three options for scaling sustainable consumption: make 'the sustainable choice the default choice' (p. 6); transform value chains through new business models; and 'transform the rules of the game through public-private partnerships', in other words the 'greening of public procurement, reform of subsidies that are harmful to the economy and environment, improving regional trade agreements, and measuring progress and the role of long-term investments' (p. 6). In addition, the aforementioned National Geographic survey indicated that the barriers to more individual action regarding sustainable consumption fall with companies who make false claims about the environmental impact of their products, and to individual claims that they would do more if governments and industries did more.

Designing public policy for a behavioural change towards sustainable consumption

So what could policymakers do to encourage sustainable consumption through new avenues, or through the avenues discussed above? This is a non-trivial question, and to answer it I will draw from the work of Jackson (2005), who listed six areas where policymakers can influence consumer behaviour to be more sustainable in quantity and type. These are:

1. Providing facilitating conditions, such as access to recycling facilities, energy efficient lighting and appliances, availability of public transport;

2. Setting standards within the institutional context, such as developing product/building/trading/media/marketing standards;

3. Influencing the social and cultural context by sending out symbolic meanings (of attitudes, goals and aspirations) that are regarded as valued and appropriate. This includes information, regulation and tax setting, but crucially, the symbolic meanings of value and appropriateness must be consistent across department and policies, otherwise they will be mistrusted;

4. Leading business practices: consumers are also employees, and governments can influence what companies are doing regarding procurement, transport, etc. This is likely to establish new norms that individuals adopt within their lives more broadly;

5. Supporting community-based social change, such as by 'initiating, promoting and supporting community-led initiatives for social change; by supporting the community management of social resources; and by designing effective community-based social marketing strategies' (p 132). These might include some of the initiatives discussed above;

6. Leading by example, such as ensuring the environmental management and sustainable procurement policies for the government's own operations are exceptional.

Conclusion

The pockets of social and cultural innovation that are seeking to lower absolute consumption levels and to lower the social and ecological impact of essential consumption are encouraging. Those working to conceptualize and generate these new models should be congratulated for questioning the norm, for seeing through the superficial promises of material goods, and for seeking well-being from sustainable sources and activities. However, even though it is part of a common discourse in this area, there are reasons to remain more pessimistic than optimistic. The drivers for consumption are also part of being human; the inertia maintaining hyper-consumption as the norm is huge; the consequences of over-consumption are very often hidden from the consumer, thereby enabling them to remain disengaged from the ethical and moral issues; individuals often consider themselves to be greener than they in fact are; rebound and backfire are common unintended consequences that limit or reverse the potential and sought-after gains; and there is little cross-party political will to support or grow these activities in the ways proposed.

Happiness and GDP

An analysis of the relationship between the level of satisfaction of people towards their living conditions and their purchasing power shows that at least three types of relationships can be distinguished. While a central group seems happier when their standard of living increases, it appears that both factors are unrelated for two other groups of countries. Below and above a certain level of living standard, the definition of happiness is not only correlated with the capacity to acquire material goods.
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A growing responsibility towards future generations

In 2012, a large majority of respondents to a survey carried out in 17 relatively wealthy countries in the North and South considered that they were likely to have to reduce their consumption to protect the environment for future generations. The two exceptions to this rule are countries that have been industrialized for a long time - Germany and Japan. Moreover, Germany, India and the United States are the three countries where respondents are less willing to reduce their consumption.
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A greener self than society?

The study conducted for National Geographic in 2012 shows that in all countries, individuals feel that they are more environmentally friendly (on average two times more) than their society as a whole.
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