Materialism and consumerism are prevalent in our modern society and have led to a rapid increase in the production and consumption of goods. The fast fashion industry alone is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of industrial water pollution. Consumerism is also linked to the consumption of resources, such as water, minerals and other raw materials, which can also have an impact on the environment. In addition, the constant buying of new products contributes to waste and pollution, as discarded items often end up in landfills. Our systems that facilitate the exploitation of our natural resources contribute largely to the challenges we face with the climate crisis – where the World Wildlife Fund sites paper production as being responsible for around 35% of all deforestation worldwide and a single mobile phone requires as many as 50 minerals to be mined. As we work at reforming our consumeristic systems, learn more about key elements involved in materialism in our society, obtain resources and link with organisations that as working toward a more sustainable future below.
Image: Gabrielle Leah New, What to do with All the Plastic: Plasticus, 2021.
WHY DO WE NEED SO MUCH STUFF?
The short answer is we don’t. The root cause of the problem is that we’re tethered to a global economy built on generating private profits from ‘growth’ rather than a culture that prioritises meeting community needs in ways that generate joy and contentment.
Resources below aid in understanding the dangers of consumer culture and the joys in rejecting it.
The Story of Stuff –
We first met ‘The Story of Stuff’ founder Annie Leonard as co-presenters at Sustainable Living Festival 2014. What began with a documentary to prompt an ‘honest conversation about our consumption-crazed culture’ (2007), ‘The Story of Stuff’ is now a powerful ‘solutions’ and ‘actions’ focussed global community of change makers addressing environmental and social justice issues.
The Australia Institute – This independent think tank conducts research and advocacy on economic, social and environmental issues. They have a dedicated research program looking into the impacts of consumerism, advertising and materialism on individuals and society.
The Simplicity Institute – This Melbourne-based organization conducts research and education on the topic of simple living, degrowth and the impacts of consumerism on individuals and the planet. They offer a range of resources, including books, courses, and workshops.
The Conscious Consumer – This website provides information and resources on sustainable consumption and ethical consumerism. It covers a range of topics, including the environmental and social impacts of consumption, as well as ways to make more conscious and responsible choices as a consumer.
The Minimalists – This website is run by two guys who are passionate about minimalism and simple living. They share their story, experiences and tips on how to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life with less stuff.
Happy Simple Living – This website provides inspiration and guidance for living a simple and sustainable life, with a focus on reducing consumption and living more intentionally.
We find ourselves in the age of fast fashion – the rapid turnover of trends and styles in the fashion industry, which results in a constant flow of new and inexpensive clothing. This unstainable model of production and consumption relies on the use of cheap, non-renewable resources and contributes significantly to pollution and waste, alongside many humanitarian problems. In addition to the large amounts of water, energy, and chemicals required in these processes fast fashion is often made with synthetic fibres that do not biodegrade, which can lead to microplastic pollution in the ocean and large amounts of waste in landfills. These organizations offer a wealth of information and resources on fast fashion, sustainability and ethical fashion, where you can learn about the impact of the industry and ways to make more conscious consumer choices.
Fashion Revolution – This organization is a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. They provide information and resources on sustainable fashion.
Ethical Consumer – This website provides ratings and reviews of fashion brands based on their environmental and social impact.
The Eco Directory -Ethical Clothing Australia – This organization promotes and certifies Australian-made clothing that is ethically and sustainably produced. They provide a directory of certified brands and retailers.
The True Cost – This documentary film and website provides information on the environmental and social impacts of the fast fashion industry and looks at the human and environmental costs of the clothes we wear.
The Green Carpet Challenge – This initiative is led by Livia Firth (creative director of Eco-Age) and aims to promote sustainable fashion by highlighting the work of environmentally and socially responsible designers and brands.
The Sustainable Fashion Collective – This Melbourne-based organization promotes sustainable fashion through education and events. They provide information on sustainable fashion and events to connect consumers with sustainable fashion brands.
The Sustainable Style Co – This Australian-based e-commerce platform sells sustainable fashion products from a variety of brands and also provides resources and guides to make sustainable choices.
The Social Outfit – This Australian-based organization is a social enterprise that creates employment for refugees and new migrants by producing sustainable and ethically made clothing and accessories.
WOOD / PAPER
The production of wood products, wood harvesting and paper production have significant impacts on the environment and climate change. Clearing trees releases carbon and removes carbon stores and destroys natural habitats. The production and transportation of paper and wood products also require large amounts of water, energy and emissions. To mitigate these impacts, it is important to promote sustainable forestry practices, such as selective cutting and replanting, and to use recycled and responsibly sourced paper and wood products. The websites below provide information on these topics and ways you can consume consciously.
The Forest Conservation Society – Based in Melbourne, this organization works to protect native forests and promote sustainable forestry practices in Victoria, Australia.
Science Daily Forest News – ScienceDaily is a website that provides news and articles on a wide range of scientific topics, including earth and climate, and forests. It offers a variety of information such as research findings, current events, and expert insights on various fields of science.
The Australian Forest Products Association – based in Melbourne, this organization provides information on sustainable forest management in Australia, including the environmental impacts of the wood and paper industry.
Rainforest Alliance – This international organization works to promote sustainable forestry and agriculture practices, and provides information on the environmental impacts of the wood and paper industry.
Natural Resources Defense Council – This environmental advocacy organization provides information on the environmental impacts of the wood and paper industry, as well as campaigns and initiatives to promote sustainable forestry practices.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Australia – This organization promotes responsible management of the world’s forests through certification and labelling in Australia. They provide a product search feature on their website, where you can search for FSC-certified products in your area.
Planet Ark – This Australian organization provides information on sustainable wood products and a directory of suppliers of sustainable wood products in Australia.
The Woodland Trust – This organization works to protect and restore native woodlands in Australia and provides information on sourcing sustainable wood products in Australia.
The Environmental Paper Network – This international organization promotes environmentally sound practices in the paper industry and provides information on the environmental impacts of the wood and paper industry.
Plastic production, pollution and its impact on the environment have caught international attention with actions such as the EU’s ban on disposable plastics in 2021 and Australia’s plan to phase out single-use plastics from 2025. Plastic is a durable material that can take hundreds of years to break down, and as a result, it accumulates in landfills, oceans, and other natural habitats. Plastic pollution harms wildlife, marine life, and ecosystems, and it can also leach chemicals that are harmful to human health. Reducing plastic production and consumption, recycling and proper disposal of plastic can help to mitigate these impacts. Understand how you can consciously consume and obtain resources on this highly controversial and common material.
The Plastic Collective – This Australian organization aims to create a circular economy for plastic by raising awareness of plastic pollution and providing solutions. The website provides information on plastic pollution and ways to take action.
Boomerang Alliance – This Australian organization aims to reduce plastic pollution by advocating for a container deposit scheme and provides resources on how to reduce plastic use.
Take 3 – This Australian organization aims to reduce plastic pollution by encouraging people to take 3 pieces of trash with them when they leave the beach, river or park, and provides resources on how to reduce plastic use.
Plastic Oceans – This international organization aims to change attitudes and behaviours towards plastic within a generation. Their website provides information on plastic pollution, its impact on the environment and ways to take action.
Break Free From Plastic – This international movement aims to hold corporations accountable for the plastic pollution crisis. Their website provides information on plastic pollution, its impact on the environment and ways to take action.
Plastic Free July – This Australian-based organization encourages people to reduce their use of single-use plastics for the month of July, and provides resources on how to do so on their website.
Technology production, consumption, and e-waste all have significant environmental impacts. The production of technology involves the extraction of resources, such as metals and plastics, as well as energy consumption. The consumption of technology, such as smartphones and computers, leads to the rapid obsolescence and disposal of these devices, which in turn contributes to the growing problem of e-waste. The improper disposal of e-waste can lead to the release of these toxic materials into the environment, as well as the waste of valuable resources. Learn more and how you can consciously consume through the resources below.
EcoVoice – an Australian-based website that provides information about the country’s growing e-waste problem and interviews experts on the subject.
United Nations News – the United Nations news website, which provides updates and articles on e-waste, as well as other environmental issues.
Digital Responsibility – a website that focuses on the impact of technology on the environment and provides information on how to reduce the depletion of resources and pollution caused by e-waste.
Sustainability Victoria – a government website that provides information on recycling and reducing e-waste in the state of Victoria, Australia, including tips on how to recycle e-waste at home.
Eco Rating Devices – is a website that provides information on eco-friendly and sustainable electronics and devices.
Clean Up Australia – an Australian-based website that provides information on e-waste and promotes proper disposal and recycling of electronic waste.