When did we become “consumers”? How did it seep into our mainstream culture so that it’s commonplace to refer to each other as consumers?
It’s pretty clear why people over the last several decades started referring to each other as consumers: wealth and greed. Today, about two thirds of our economy is based on “consumer spending.” If we stop spending, our economy will likely fall into a recession, or worse. While our standard of living (measured in possessions) has never been higher, the quality of our life is not what it once was. Until recently, Americans have enjoyed an economic boom like no other, though it’s hardly shared among all citizens. But now, our spending habits have seemingly caught up with some of us.
We’ve discovered that owning lots of stuff often gets in the way of achieving a satisfying and fulfilling life. As a result, we’re revisiting our values and reorganizing our life around better meeting them. When we do purchase something, it’s as a “conserving customer”. If we own a business, perhaps as an ecopreneur, we offer products or services that seek to make the world a better place. Our enterprise, either for-profit or non-profit, is a means by which to create the changes we seek in the world.
With awareness building about our far-reaching and global impacts, we’re changing how we live, work and play — becoming conserver customers, not consumers. Instead of borrowing from the future or burning through resources, reducing the possibilities for future generations, ecopreneurs are seeking to thrive in a restorative economy that’s life giving. It’s a change in consciousness not merely a change in shopping habits. Ecopreneurial businesses, by how they operate and what products or services they offer, foster this conserver behavior. Ironically, many so-called conservatives are more concerned about conserving their present way of life and the status quo, refusing to pay attention to the changing world around them.
At our small-scale Inn Serendipity, created from a four-square farmhouse on five and half acres, our guests can relax, savor a local breakfast with most of the organic ingredients harvested from a hundred feet from our back door and drive away knowing that their carbon dioxide emissions were carbon off-set through our participation in the non-profit Trees for the Future Trees for Travel program. The revenues we generate from our business enterprises, besides meeting any financial obligations, are devoted to the good work of improving soil quality, producing more renewable energy than we use and contributing in various ways to helping others who wish to launch their own enterprise or live in a more sustainable way. Our profits fund our purpose, rather than the purpose of our business being solely to make profits.
I’m pretty certain that we cannot merely shop our way out of climate change, or any of the other issues facing the planet. But business and the conserving customers they serve can play a pivotal role in transforming our economy into one that respects ecological realities and seeks to prosper through fair trade, not free trade. After all, if half of all Americans had a solar electric or solar thermal system on their roof or grew at least some of their own food in a community garden or backyard, it would fundamentally change our sense of local self-reliance which is one of the hallmarks of sustainability.
Perhaps the first step is simply calling one another a citizen of planet Earth, then getting to work together to cooperatively make the world a better place, starting in our community.