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‘Consumption – the most feared disease at the turn of the century’. A statement from the turn of the 20th century, when TB ravaged our shores, influencing every part of our culture and society.
Here we are, and over a century on it is still sucking the heart out of our communities, however, it is a very different ‘beast’ that consumes us now.
You can’t beat a dictionary definition for a blunt descriptive: ‘Consumption - the action of using up a resource.’ (In our global reality: a small part of society using up all the resources that matter.)
Here lies the problem; while I love the capitalist ‘freedom’ we have and have worked hard for – you graft, you get – the reality is that this is far from the complete truth. In fact, without clearer and honest objectives graft’s achievements are hollow.
Children of the eighties were nourished by Hollywood dreams of having it all. No, not only could we have it all, we were duty-bound to make sure we took it all. Our western sophistication is predicated on being able to maximise growth through unfettered consumption and if you stood in the way? Well…
So, what to do when the world around us finally shows the strain of that consumption? When the years of taking more than we needed, the years of not caring, the years of not giving a damn start to take their toll?
Take meat, for example. For years, society has purchased its meat from supermarkets, sourced from intensive, industrial farms where grain and soy are both a key part of the animals’ diets. We are well aware that this contributes hugely to deforestation, yet so it continues. Butchers like ours are pushing for change, moving to a product with pasture-fed farming at its heart, but you have to be willing to pay for that quality or reduce your consumption accordingly.
I am part of it, we all are. I have to shoulder my responsibilities and direct my own change. Yes, I wear my ‘infinite goal’ of ‘Human and Environmental Harmony’ as a badge of honour, but that title, the idea that I can never personally achieve it gives me wriggle room.
The driver behind business growth has been so simple for so long: sell more. So as businesses we build the plans to deliver.
As consumers, we suck up that plan, because we love to consume. With ‘right’ price deals, glossy marketing, boredom, ownership, belonging, soft promises… Why would we not?
So it goes on until we decide that it can’t. Until we decide that the model has to change.
Which of course, we do. We start to make lifestyle choices to take a stand, shouting into the wind “Eat less! Eat better!” But this change needs to occur at scale and we all know that the first movers, whilst noble, will perish. But do they?
The innately unachievable nature of ‘infinite goals’ gives us the predetermined excuse of not achieving them. But yet we need those bright guiding lights, singing to the naivety of our youth and recalibrating what great looks like.
We have to drive for something and to think that collectively we can start to shape our communities’ experiences so that consumption is not an unrestrained habit, not uncontrollable greed.
Rather it is what makes us human, how we respect our environment and precious world around us, how we define who we are, sharing our differences whilst basking in our similarities.
I imagine a time where we can explicitly illustrate the real value in a price ticket. Highlighting how the transactions feed back into multiple layers of our society, to service, to state, yes to the owners and their assets, but furthermore to the suppliers, producers, stewards, our committed teams and their families, to our community. This is long-lasting and impactful economics, not short, sharp shareholder return.
So, let’s aim for that revenue growth, but let’s build on the back of real quality and community engagement, and not simply on dictionary-defined consumption.