Mindful Consumption and Mindful Production Can Help Save Our Planet!
As soon we all receive enough vaccine shots, Covid-19 will be over. Then we will face two other crucial challenges. One is to kickstart the world economy to grow again. We will leave this problem to the economists. The other is to reduce greenhouse gases that threaten to heat up our planet.
The Planet’s Problem
A greenhouse gas is any gaseous compound in the atmosphere that is capable of absorbing infrared radiation.[i] Greenhouse gases include water vapor (H20), carbon dioxide (C02), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). The earth is bombarded by the sun with enormous amounts of visible light plus ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR) and other types of radiation. Some percentage (about 30 percent) of the radiation is reflected back out to space by ice, clouds and other reflective surfaces. The remaining 70 percent is absorbed by our land, oceans, and the atmosphere.
The earth experiences incoming and outgoing radiation. When they are balanced, the Earth’s overall average temperature stays at 59 degrees Fahrenheit. When the incoming radiation exceeds the outgoing radiation, the earth grows warmer. Greenhouse gases trap and hold heat in the atmosphere. The result is global warming.
Although the earth has always had greenhouse gases, the amount of C02 has increased much faster since the Industrial Revolution with automobiles, airplanes, high rise buildings, factory smoke, the burning of coal, oil and gas, and the cutting of trees.
The growing amount of greenhouse gases in our planet will lead to hotter temperature, followed by melting ice flooding many coastal areas, and a vast migration of tropical people trying to move to temperate climates. Global warming will also lead to extreme weather, rising sea levels, plant and animal extinctions, ocean acidification, major shifts in climate and social upheaval.
Many actions can be taken to reduce greenhouse gases. We need to slow down the use of oil and gas to drive our cars and run our electrical systems. We need to make more use of renewable sources of energy, mainly solar and wind. We need to heat and air-condition our buildings and homes more efficiently.
Fortunately, more businesses are adopting sustainability as an additional mission. Consumers are becoming more conscious of sustainability. Businesses and consumers must be more mindful in managing consumption and production practices.
Consumption Comes First
The aim of business has always been to increase our consumption of goods and services. Nations use GDP (Gross Disposable Product) as a measure of economic success. The more we produce and consume, the higher our GDP. But the higher our GDP, the higher our greenhouse gases and carbons in the air and water of the planet.
When we view consumption, we see two problems, those of underconsumption and overconsumption. Much of the world’s people suffer from underconsumption. Nearly a billion of the world’s people go to bed hungry at the end of the day, even while a third of all food goes to waste. Many populous regions lack water. Clothing is in short supply and housing is in short supply. The poorer countries in the world need and want more consumption. Yet it is widely understood that the earth would not be able to deliver the level of consumption enjoyed in the rich countries.
The other problem is overconsumption, where people in rich countries often consume more food and economic goods than they really need. Over 2 billion people are overweight, facing health issues brought on by unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. We eat food with too much salt, sugar and fat. We need to reduce meat consumption and think “half the meat and double the veggies.” We drink too much alcoholic beverage.
We need more mindful consumption (MC). Professor Jagdish Sheth wrote a leading article on mindful consumption in 2011.[ii] In overconsuming societies, hopefully more people will turn to mindful consumption (MC). We are seeing more signs of mindful consumption in five different groups.
1. Sane food eaters (vegetarians and vegans) know they can eat well without killing animals.
2. Degrowth activists feel that they spend too much time and effort in consuming.
3. Life simplifiers are reacting against the clutter of “stuff.” They are less interested in owning goods such as cars or even homes.
4. Climate activists worry that the planet will get so hot that our coastal cities will be flooded and destroyed.
5. Conservation activists believe in saving, repairing, reusing and recirculating our goods to others to be preferred to producing an endless amount of new goods.
We Also Need Mindful Production
We are reaching a point where almost everything possible to sell already exists. Advanced industrial nations are replete with millions of branded products and their variations. Consumers often complain about “overchoice,” too many soups, computers, types of shoes, and so on.
Very often a company will market a new version of an existing product with a slight or minor difference. Think back to automobile company marketing practices. Each car manufacturer had to add something each year to give car owners a reason to buy the latest car even though most people could get along with their existing car for many more years. Or consider smart phone marketing practices. Next year’s iPhone will feature a better camera, or more storage, or a phone with faster processing. The result is an infinitely growing number of offerings far beyond anything that is really needed. All these new offerings consume increasing resources and release more carbon and greenhouse gases.
Can product developers adopt a more mindful production mindset? Can they assess whether a new offering is really better than the existing offering?
Every new product idea needs money to support its development. Companies have to apply to banks and capital markets for funding. We hope that banks and investors will review new product proposals carefully. Is the new product needed by enough people? Will the new product be successful? Will the new product damage the environment by releasing toxins in the air or water, or damage soil or water quality?
Consideration also should be given to where the product is made and where it is consumed. Many more of our products are made far from where they are consumed. Many are made in low cost Asian countries and shipped to Europe and the U.S. This means long shipment routes by air and by road, which creates a higher level of pollution.
Agencies Creating More Mindful Consumption and Production
There are many agencies — government, businesses and nonprofit organizations — engaged in producing more mindful consumption and production.
Education is our ultimate hope. Children go to school to acquire the basic skills of reading, writing and computing. Schools need to help students understand the planet’s fragility and the need to make mindful choices as they go through their personal, social and work lives. While this won’t produce immediate results and changes in behavior, it becomes a foundation for updating people during their lives about the climate change problem and sustainability.
Laws and regulations. Legislators need to pass many laws and regulations to establish more sustainable business and personal practices. Companies cannot dump toxic chemicals in the ocean and airplanes cannot spray DDT into the air to kill weeds or insects. Businesses must know the laws that guide environmentally safe practices.
Media agencies. Newspapers, broadcasters and journalists need to give sufficient coverage to healthy as well as to unhealthy environmental matters. Dramatic stories of citizens or public agencies stopping harmful practices will remind the public and businesses to practice mindful consumption and production.
In the past, businesses assumed that the planet could support endless growth of consumption and production. Caring businesses also assumed that needed laws would be passed to curb environmentally harmful practices.
When did people start caring about endless consumption and production? We owe much to Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring (1962) and other writings. Her reporting on the harm done to the environment by synthetic pesticides spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy leading to a ban on DDT and other pesticides. It inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The environmental movement then focused on all the chimney smoke released in the air by homes, cars and factories. Air became more polluted, causing it harder to breathe. The EPA took actions to set targets on smoke pollution from industry and cars. The public became quite aware of environmental harm and its threats to the world’s temperature and the planet’s health.
Today we hope that people will turn to more mindful behavior about what they consume and what companies produce.
[i] See Marc Lallanilla, “Greenhouse Gases: Causes, Sources and Environmental Effects,” Life Science Contributor, January 03, 2019.
[ii] Sheth, J.N., Sethia, N.K. and Srinivas, S., “Mindful Consumption: A Customer-centric Approach to Sustainability, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, #9(1), pp. 21–39, 2011.