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Responsible consumption

WE residents of the “lucky country” are very slack consumers. Keen, but slack. Our buying criteria are basically: Do I need it? Will the plastic cover it?

Unlike much of the Western world and many of our youth, Australians do not seem to recognise the responsibility we, as consumers, have towards the real cost of our consumption to the environment and our future society. If it works and we can buy it, that’s perfect, what else matters?

It seems that most adult Australians lag behind the awareness levels of consumers in Europe and America. Most Americans know, for example, that their fashion industry outrageously exploits third world workers and that car exhaust fumes are the greatest cause of air pollution in their cities.

While the consumption level of both fashion and vehicles in the US remains the highest in the world, consumers appear to be changing their buying choices to reflect environmental and social values. Big business is paying attention.

Europeans have a long tradition of consumer action. American clothing retailer The Gap has decided to pull out of the UK because of continued damage to their stores by protestors against its continued use of Thai and Cambodian sweatshops.

Australia’s settled history has allowed us consumers to be blissfully unconcerned about the bigger issues in life. Governments were there to ensure that we all had the best of what we needed – jobs, health services, education, pensions, and a just legal system.

During the past 200 years, government did a good job at doing just that – we are the lucky country.

The downside of such paternalistic government is that we never developed the skills of how to think and act on these issues for ourselves.

Now that we are in a world where government can no longer be the heavy protector, we must think and act responsibly all by ourselves, ready or not.

Responsible consumerism means buying and using products and services that reflect our personal values. Western Australians seem to be rapidly clarifying their own values, shifting away from the economic rationalist belief in materialism, and toward values based on people and relationships.

As responsible consumers we must find out about who is producing what, then do a value-check with our own beliefs, and then act accordingly. To buy or not, to communicate our knowledge, and to encourage others to do the same.

A recent example is the email campaign to boycott tobacco giant Philip Morris, which just lost a costly class action about selling a killer product – cigarettes.

Philip Morris, like most mega companies, diversifies across many industries.

To boycott Philip Morris the tobacco giant you must boycott its diversified food products, which include: Vegemite; Philadelphia cheese; Toblerone; Ritz crackers; Maxwell House; Kraft Macaroni Cheese; Kraft Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip; Cote d’Or chocolate; Dairylea; Nabisco biscuits and cereals, and many more.

See www.philipmorris.com and www.kraft.com/brands/international/index.html.

Give up Vegemite? This is serious stuff, being a responsible consumer.

Whatever happened to the lucky country?

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