It’s very easy in the current day and age to get frustrated about the state of the environment, society and even the government’s role (or lack thereof) in protecting consumers and the planet we live on. In a world as big as ours is, it’s not hard to feel disempowered and to lose sight of the fact that making even small changes in your life can have a big impact. However, if you spend money at all, and we all do, you have the power to make a change. It’s important to keep in mind that, always, the power to change a consumer society lies with the actual consumers, especially those who move beyond that society’s addictive consumerism.
Environmentalists, postconsumers, anti-consumers and the entire community of people who want to see change are often uncomfortable with (or even aggressively opposed to) the quote “money talks.” Why is that? Because the vision that all of these people (and, of course, we on the Postconsumers team) have is a future that is less driven by money and consumption. That’s a great vision. We obviously embrace it here. But the world doesn’t change because a small group of people want it to. Sometimes, to defeat the beast, you need to understand and even dance with the beast.
There is a reality in the western world, and that reality is that money begets power. This is true on both small and aggregate levels.
We’re big fans of Gary Hirshberg, the chairman, president and “CE-Yo” of Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt. While Hirshberg has taken some heat in recent years for partnering to sell his product in Walmart, we actually applaud him for realizing that you can’t win the game by refusing to get onto the playing field. Hirshberg said in an interview with Smart Planet
“I used to run nonprofits, and I had zero economic power. In my 20s I became aware of my impotence as a change agent. I realized then – if you want to, if you want to, change the way the world operates, you need to marshal your economic power.”
Does that quote make the idealist in you cringe? It’s understandable if it does. And certainly Stonyfield can’t claim to be the same “all good, no bad” organization that it was when it was small and local. But when you compare it to other mass food production companies, it’s doing more good than bad. At the end of the day, if the standard is going to be “only a perfectly sustainable, locally-produced product using only clean energy,” then not many people will be joining in the fight. But Hirshberg makes the most important point – if the financial power of everybody is harnessed, we can demand change.
What Can You Do?
Hirshberg also once said in an interview in the documentary Food, Inc.: “You vote every time you make a purchase.” This is not only true, but it’s especially true in an era when corporations have more power than Congress.
When you go to a big box store and buy an item that is organic, made from sustainable sources or socially conscious, you tell that big box store to stock more kinds of those products and that you’re not willing to be a part of the over-consumption process. When you skip the big box stores and cheap merchandise altogether, you send the message that priorities are changing.
The same is true with whom you choose for your energy provider, your daily transportation options and so many other things.
But you have to find your own line of comfort. Maybe you’re not ready to entirely let go of the lower prices of mass-consumption items (though you may be surprised at how competitive more localized prices can be). Maybe you’re not ready to entirely give up buying tons of “stuff.” How can you get started with these changes?
Ask yourself every time that you’re in a checkout line at a store, “Is my money really being used as a vote for how I want the world to look?” If you’re comfortable with the idea that it is, check out! If not, take a moment to think about how much is enough for today.
Remember, you have the power to change things. And it’s only when individual (post)consumers as a group vote with their dollars to change things that true change will happen.
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Photo Credit: nateOne via Flickr