Consumption is a key driver of economic growth, but it also has negative impacts on the environment and human well-being. How can we shift from a consumption-driven economy to a wellbeing economy that values people and planet over profit? This is the question that experts and activists explored in a recent webinar hosted by The National, Scotland’s pro-independence newspaper.
What is a Wellbeing Economy?
A wellbeing economy is an economic system that aims to deliver social justice, environmental sustainability, and human flourishing, rather than focusing on GDP growth as the main indicator of success. It is based on the recognition that the current economic model is failing to meet the needs and aspirations of people and communities, and is depleting the natural resources and ecosystems that support life on Earth.
A wellbeing economy is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a diverse and context-specific approach that respects the different cultures, values, and preferences of people around the world. It is also not a utopian or unrealistic vision, but rather a practical and feasible alternative that is already being implemented in various ways by governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals.
Why Do We Need to Change Our Consumption Patterns?
One of the main challenges that a wellbeing economy faces is how to change the consumption patterns that are deeply ingrained in our culture and society. Consumption is not only a matter of satisfying our basic needs, but also a way of expressing our identity, status, and belonging. It is also influenced by social norms, peer pressure, advertising, and the availability and affordability of goods and services.
However, our consumption patterns have serious consequences for the environment and human well-being. According to the Global Footprint Network, humanity is currently using 1.7 times more resources than the Earth can regenerate, leading to ecological overshoot and climate change. Moreover, our consumption patterns are not making us happier or healthier, as studies have shown that beyond a certain level of income, more consumption does not increase well-being, and may even reduce it.
Therefore, we need to rethink our consumption patterns and align them with the values and goals of a wellbeing economy. This means reducing our ecological footprint, increasing our social and psychological well-being, and ensuring that everyone has access to the goods and services that they need to live a dignified and fulfilling life.
How Can We Change Our Consumption Patterns?
Changing our consumption patterns is not an easy task, as it requires a systemic and holistic transformation of the economic, social, and cultural structures that shape our behavior and choices. However, there are some promising initiatives and examples that can inspire and guide us in this direction.
One of them is the concept of “doughnut economics”, developed by Kate Raworth, a senior visiting research associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. The doughnut is a simple but powerful framework that shows the minimum and maximum levels of consumption that can ensure that everyone has enough to meet their basic needs, without exceeding the ecological limits of the planet. The doughnut can be applied at different scales, from local to global, and can serve as a tool for designing and evaluating policies and actions that aim to create a safe and just space for humanity.
Another example is the movement of “degrowth”, which advocates for a voluntary and democratic reduction of production and consumption, in order to achieve social and ecological sustainability. Degrowth is not about shrinking the economy or lowering the quality of life, but rather about redefining what constitutes a good life, and finding alternative ways of meeting our needs and desires, such as sharing, caring, cooperating, and participating. Degrowth also challenges the dominant narratives and values that promote consumerism, individualism, and competition, and proposes a cultural shift towards sufficiency, solidarity, and conviviality.
A third example is the practice of “mindful consumption”, which involves being aware of the impacts of our consumption choices on ourselves, others, and the environment, and making informed and intentional decisions that reflect our true needs and values. Mindful consumption can help us to reduce our ecological footprint, enhance our well-being, and contribute to social justice. It can also foster a sense of gratitude, appreciation, and connection with the sources of our sustenance, such as nature, farmers, and workers.
How Can We Support and Scale Up These Initiatives?
Changing our consumption patterns is not only a personal responsibility, but also a collective and political one. We need to support and scale up the initiatives and examples that are already showing the way towards a wellbeing economy, and create the conditions and incentives for more people and organizations to join them. Some of the ways we can do this are:
- Raising awareness and education about the impacts of our consumption patterns, and the benefits and opportunities of a wellbeing economy.
- Creating and joining networks and communities of practice that share knowledge, experiences, and resources, and that advocate for change at different levels.
- Supporting and promoting the businesses and organizations that are aligned with the principles and values of a wellbeing economy, and that offer goods and services that enhance well-being and sustainability.
- Demanding and influencing the policies and regulations that can enable and facilitate the transition to a wellbeing economy, such as carbon taxes, circular economy strategies, and well-being indicators.
- Experimenting and innovating with new and alternative models and practices of consumption, such as collaborative consumption, local currencies, and community-supported agriculture.