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What does a post-consumerist society look like?

Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard

By Joe Perez

One of the huge gifts that an environmentally conscious World Spirituality brings into the conversation around green living is its understanding that people are more than consumers, and that identifying with any limited conception of ourself is the bane of health spirituality. If what we value is something beyond our Self — consumer products, for instance — then we are headed away from our Unique Self. If what society values us for is something other than our Unique Self — then society is leading us down the road to perdition.

But for many of us it’s easier to see how we can change our own outlook, or progress in our individual consciousness. How can we possibly change the way that society drives, defines, shapes us? The answer, I think, begins with a twofold response. First, we are all leaders, and called to leadership. Of course there’s a role for following in some areas of our life, but we must be leaders where it really counts — in the ways that we are uniquely called into leadership. Through this leadership, we can do our own role to change the way that society squashes our fullest human potential.

Second, we must all see ourselves as part of a “We Culture” which is collectively responsible for being the new good global citizens that the world needs. We must lead by example and take the initiative to create a world that values the Unique We that is our collective Self. We must look for ways in which our organizations and institutions can honor more and deeper parts of our humanity in everything they do, instead of treating us like idiots, numbers, or cogs in a machine.

This is all so abstract, one might say. But actually there are abundant examples that I would point to to show how leaders today are birthing companies and doing business in ways that are advancing a World Spirituality. Patagonia, the green clothing company that also forays into territories such as salmon jerkey, sees the light at the end of the darkness of a world economy driven mainly by consumerism. In article appearing in the May 2012 issue of Fast Company, the Patagonia founder and green living pioneer Yvon Chouinard is asked:

You write about the ideal of a “postconsumerist society.” What is that?

We’re not citizens anymore; we’re consumers. The government views us as consumers, and our economy is based on us consuming and discarding. That behavior is destroying the planet. How can we use the power of consuming to do some good? I introduced the concept of the sustainability index, and Patagonia is working with 40 clothing companies, including Walmart, to implement it. In the future, customers will be able to zap their iPhone and find out just how a clothing article was made. The index will give a grade, and suddenly the consumer is armed with information. Some jeans, for example, will have a score of 10, some a score of 2. I think it’s going to be the start of getting away from consuming as recreation.

Now this is just one small example, but think of it if it were ever radically implemented. Before we buy any product, we could easily find out more about the human, spiritual values of the people who built and sold the product: we can learn if they support causes we object to, or whether they used environmentally friendly methods, or if they donate to charities that we support or behave in other socially responsible ways.

In such a society, it would be so easy to be socially responsible in our behavior that we would just take for granted that buying a product is an expression of our most precious human values. If we want to support a business that makes a lot of non-biodegradable trash and toxic waste, then we know that that is an expression of our self-image. But if we know that our precious worth is not trash, but more like gold, then we can look for companies acting from a place of genuine love and compassion and responsibility to the planet.

In this society, “buying” would no longer be an activity separated from Who We Really Are. What we would be doing is “buying in,” fully to our most radical humanity. We would be living in a post-consumerist society, closer to a genuine “We Culture.”