Why Buying Less is Better Than Buying Green

By Nikki Harper

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

We all know that we all buy too much stuff. Consumer culture, particularly in the developed world, has never been more heavily promoted, with advertising bombarding us night and day via smartphones and other devices. Every consumer choice has an environmental impact of some kind. From planned obsolescence to the management of waste products, there are environmental issues at every stage of the consumer process.

In an effort to counter this, many of us now choose to ‘buy green’. We choose products which have good environmental credentials, and we try to be conscious consumers. Which is a good thing, right?

Yes. It is a good thing. However, new research by the University of Arizona has found that buying green has no positive effect on psychological wellbeing [1]. It also has a more limited environmental benefit than the other option – simply buying less.

The University of Arizona study followed 968 young adults over a number of years, beginning when they were aged 18-21 and ending when they were aged 23-26. Throughout the longitudinal study, participants responded to surveys and questions about their subjective wellbeing, their life satisfaction and their psychological distress, as well as giving information about their levels of materialism, pro-environmental behaviour and proactive financial behaviour.

The study, published in the journal Young Consumer, found that reduced consumption – buying less, repairing items instead of replacing them, avoiding impulse purchases and so on – was linked to a higher level of personal wellbeing and a lower level of psychological distress. Green buying did not show such links.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study also found that young people with more materialistic values were less likely to engage in reduced consumption. This group did, however, engage with ‘buying green’ activities. Researcher Sabrina Helm suggests that this may be because buying green is still buying – so it still satisfies the materialist’s urge to accumulate. “There is evidence that there are green materialists,” said Helen [2]. “If you are able to buy environmentally friendly products, you can still live your materialist values.”

However, green materialists must still deal with the same consumption-related stresses as standard materialists. If you buy and own a lot of stuff, it takes up a lot of head space. You have to worry about how to pay for it, where to put it, how to keep it safe and how to keep it organised. Your favourite purchases may well have impeccable environmental credentials, but the burden of ownership they place on you is still the same. As Helm notes, “The key is to reduce consumption and not just buy green stuff. Having less and buying less can actually make us more satisfied and happier.” [2]

The University of Arizona research could have implications for future consumer education policy. If we can demonstrate that reduced consumption is not only better for the environment but better for us personally on a subjective wellbeing level, then there is an argument to develop consumer education which focuses on better micro-level use of our own resources. Eventually, a shift in consumer culture of this nature could have lasting benefits for the world we all share.

Article sources:

[1] https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/YC-10-2018-0867/full/html

[2] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191008155716.htm

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About the author:

Nikki Harper is a spiritualist writer, astrologer, and editor for Wake Up World. She writes about divination, astrology, mediumship and spirituality at Questionology: Astrology and Divination For the Modern World where you can also find out more about her work as a freelance astrologer and her mind-body-spirit writing and editing services. Nikki also runs a spiritualist centre in North Lincs, UK, hosting weekly mediumship demonstrations and a wide range of spiritual development courses and workshops.

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