Chapter Six: Consumption Fatigue and a Return to Citizenship

Earlier, we suggested that there is a growing discontent with relative-materialist individualistic ways of life and that there is a concomitant resurgence in Citizenship. Here, we examine this shift in more detail.

There are signs that the public are tired of waiting for politics and business to blink first. Across the world, community organisations and individuals are making efforts to effect profound changes to the way we live. Whether this is through the rise of Fairtrade and organic produce or the more active community projects that search for solutions to ecological problems, statistics show that more people are waking up to the social and environmental crises and are prepared to work for change.

A great example of where ordinary people – butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers, teachers and housewives – are taking control back at a local level is the Transition Towns movement. This movement, which is active in over 30 UK cities, towns and villages (including mythical Ambridge on BBC Radio 4′s soap The Archers), is a rebirth of local community taking control of finding solutions to issues like peak oil, climate change and food security. Internationally there are 500 such initiatives.

These communities have simply given up waiting for local or national government to act.

These communities have simply given up waiting for local or national government to act. They are putting in place exciting and visionary steps towards a low-carbon, local-food, local-currency and sustainable way of life.

Transition Towns
Totnes Transition Town in Devon even has its own local currency – the Totnes Pound. Another interesting “alternative to money” innovation is the online freeconomy ( movement of people tired of the lack of community in their areas and the focus on money, who have decided to do something about it. By signing up to freeconomy, people are able to contact, and be contacted by, others in their area and share skills and to help one other for free.

CRAGs (Carbon Rationing Action Groups) is a growing network of carbon-conscious Citizens who believe that the impacts of climate change demand a serious programme of greenhouse gas emissions reduction and urge governments to adopt a universal and equitable framework to achieve this. CRAGs are implementing this approach at a community level by forming local groups to support and encourage one another in reducing our carbon footprints towards a sustainable and equitable level. They measure our progress against our carbon allowances. They share knowledge and skills in lower carbon living, raise awareness, and promote practical action in the wider community.

Internationally similar initiatives are springing up in many countries and under the World Social Forum’s banner millions now have joined a growing movement calling for and initiating change. More than 10m people demonstrated in 2003 as part of the WSF. Commenting on this movement and its impacts, the New York Times said in February 2002 “there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the US and world public opinion.”

In the US there are many similar initiatives such as the network of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, Co-op America, the American Independent Business Alliance and the New Rules Project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Fairtrade in the UK has gone from £1bn in 2003 to £26bn in 2007 while organic is predicted to explode from £98.4m to £ in 2009 in the US and EU over the same timeframe.

In the US, the Carrotmob grassroots initiative uses viral marketing to organise Consumers to make purchases that give financial rewards to those companies who agree to make environmentally friendly choices. Carrotmob targets Consumers and companies globally, focusing on improving corporate environmental practices. They are creating a broad network of Consumers and form partnerships with other larger advocacy groups to use their research and infrastructure to run effective campaigns.

In a recent US study, 19% of people from across social classes had voluntarily changed their lives and made less moneyxix . A study in Australia found 23% of 30–60 year olds having downshifted in this wayxx. Downshifting involves people voluntarily accepting a drop in their income in order to rebalance their lives – often in order to regain control over time and to improve their personal relationships. Research suggests that in the UK, 20–35% of adults aged 30–59 have downshifted and the average income for downshifters fell by 40%xxi. Furthermore, the same study found that not all downshifters are wealthy or middle-aged – in fact they are spread across all age groups and social grades, albeit unsurprisingly with fewer in socio-economic group E. UK insurance company Prudential has found that 1.4m Britons have actively reduced their income for increased quality of life recently and just under 1m 35–54 year olds plan to do soxxii. Downshifting is one of the most demonstrable signs of the Wellbeing Imperative.

Downshifting is one of the most demonstrable signs of the Citizen Renaissance.

There are also indications that Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about the effects they are having on the environment. Conspicuous abstention, nu-austerity, organic, Fairtrade, sustainability, down-size consumption for self-actualisation, small is beautiful, new-luxury, authentic, make do and mend, less is more, eco-bespoke and eco-relevant are all part of the new Consumer sustainability lexicon that has seen 43% of people wanting to buy organic and Fairtrade.

96% of Europeans say that protecting the environment is important for them personally and for 60% it is very important.
25% of Americans are now classified as “cultural creatives” who aspire to things likes environmentalism, global issues and spiritual learning.
Edelman’s GoodPurpose Consumer study in 2007 shows the emergence of a new phenomenon called “Mutual Social Responsibility”, where Consumers and the brands they interact with take a mutual interest in and mutual responsibility for being good Citizens. A Financial Times study in September 2007 found that, while 30% of Consumers claimed to consider environmental and social issues when purchasing, sales figures suggested that only 3% acted on such values. Yet the GoodPurpose statistics show that, when choosing between two brands of the same quality and price, a social purpose is what would most affect consumer decision (ahead of design and innovation and brand loyalty).
Backlash Against Advertising
The High Priest of Materialism Recants
Mea Culpa
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Citizen Renaissance was conceived by Jules Peck and Robert Phillips in the spring of 2008 – on the eve of the global economic crisis and before The Big Society had really seen the light of day. Originally published as a wiki, Citizen Renaissance explores the collision of the three seismic shifts of our time: the perfect storm surrounding Climate Change; the Wellbeing Imperative; and the axiomatic rise of Digital Democracy. At its heart lies a call for more citizen-centric thinking and behaviour and an end to the global imbalance of Wants & Needs. Citizen Renaissance continues today as a forum for thought; a platform for the exchange of ideas; and as a collaborative project that seeks to develop a Manifesto for Change.
Jules Peck was Director of David Cameron’s Quality of Life Policy Group, advising the Conservative Party on wellbeing and environment issues.
Robert Phillips is a Writer and Thinker. He was previously President & CEO, EMEA, of Edelman, the world’s largest Public Relations firm. Although a committed workaholic and Manchester United fan, Robert is still determined to change the world in his spare time.
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