We are the UK Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development. Through advocacy, advice and
appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy

Press

'Shop till you drop' leads to debt and misery

17 September 2003

SO WHY CAN'T WE STOP?

In pursuit of happiness, many of us are working hard to increase our spending power, while others are borrowing to keep up. And while debt makes many of us miserable, the irony is that shopping isn't making any of us happier. A new report, published today (17 September 2003) by the Sustainable Development Commission, asks 'why, if consumerism fails to satisfy, do we continue to consume in the way we do'?.

The Commission - which advises government on improving quality of life while ensuring that impacts on the environment and communities are minimised 'argues the government can no longer be complacent about personal debt and the misery of the consumption trap, but must focus on what will actually lead to greater well-being and satisfaction. Current levels of consumption cannot be maintained and will increasingly lead to greater inequality,environmental damage and debt-driven insecurity.

The Commission's report, 'Policies for sustainable consumption', by Tim Jackson and Laurie Michaelis:

- Stresses that we can no longer dodge the subject of sustainable consumption

- Highlights the link between consumption and environmental damage

- Includes a far-reaching study of why we consume in the way we do

- Demonstrates how the belief that consumption leads to well-being is so deeply ingrained in our thinking, that we cannot believe it isn't true

Publishing the report, Sustainable Development Commission Chairman Jonathon Porritt said: 'This report helps us understand what is driving us deeper into the misery of over-consumption and debt. The challenge to government is to create a strategy that moves us away from the 'consume more' mentality that governs all our life choices, and towards better health, improved quality of life and environmental sustainability. We believe government must, and can, take the lead.

'The Government's new strategy for sustainable consumption and production will be published shortly. This should provide the clearest possible framework for making rapid progress on increased resource efficiency, whilst setting in train innovative processes to address the challenge of sustainable consumption. This is a critical part of the Government's overall sustainable development strategy, and directly relevant to the lives of all UK citizens.'

- To download a copy of 'Policies for sustainable consumption' visit the Sustainable Development Commission's website: www.sd-commission.org.uk

EDITORS NOTES:

The Sustainable Development Commission's report, 'Policies for sustainable consumption', by Tim Jackson and Laurie Michaelis:

- Stresses that we can no longer dodge the subject of sustainable consumption, and that we must not allow the complexities and possible implications to prevent us finding a better way of living

- Highlights the link between consumption and environmental damage, claiming 'western consumerism appears determined to pursue a way of life that offers neither psychological nor social satisfaction. To make matters worse, it also has profound environmental impact - That environmental damage is a side-effect from a failed attempt to improve human well-being is potentially tragic'

- Includes a far-reaching study of why we consume in the way we do, addressing questions like: Does consumption make us happy? Do we really need what we desire? Would achieving our desires satisfy us? Why do we desire things that make us feel bad? Why are we 'locked-in' to unsustainable consumption patterns? Why are we getting richer but more miserable? Why are some of the poorest countries in the world also among the happiest? Have we evolved with an 'instinct of acquisition'? Do we define ourselves, and each other, according to our possessions?

- Claims the belief that consumption leads to well-being is so deeply ingrained in our thinking, that we cannot believe it isn't true, when in fact we should be re-thinking the way we seek happiness. 'A growing number of studies show that people in industrialised countries do not feel any more happy or satisfied as average income grows beyond the level to meet basic physical needs', the report says

- Points to the way forward, stressing the need for greater public debate, new ideas and an emphasis from government on quality of life through
health, community engagement and meaningful work

Notes:

- According to the National Consumer Council: in July personal lending grew by £10 million for the second month in a row; the total amount in outstanding loans, mortgage and credit card debt is now estimated at £888bn; one in five people are borrowing money just to pay household bills; one in four borrowers are struggling to meet bills and credit repayments; the average British household is carrying £37,000 of debt.

- A report from KPMG last month found that almost a quarter of all people regularly use credit for day-to-day expenses such as food or household bills.

- According to Citizens Advice Bureau, there has been a substantial increase in the number of new debt enquiries over the past five years, with consumer credit debt enquiries now forming nearly two-thirds of all new enquiries about debt made to Citizens Advice Bureaux.

- The Sustainable Development Commission is the government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the devolved administration leaders. The commission's objectives include advocating a compelling vision of a sustainable economy and society, and reviewing how far sustainable development is being achieved in the UK across all sectors.

- Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources on which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of
future generations.

< Back