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Why we need a new perspective on consumerism

3 min read

Better Society

In partnership with Fairphone

Fairphone is literally changing the consumer electronics industry for GOOD. They make great long-lasting, modular, easy-to-self-repair phones, pay their factory workers in China a living wage, are e-waste neutral, and work hard to improve sustainability practices in the supply chain.
PetervanDam

A world without consumption is impossible, but for the sake of the planet and people it is crucial to change our consumer culture. Has our consumerism gone a step too far? Nowadays, most people do not buy something new because they need it, but because they want it. That also applies to the electronics industry. We need a new perspective on consumerism for both the planet’s and people’s sake.

Are we what we buy?

We created a society in which we buy products to align ourselves to a group, explains UvA lecturer Peter van Dam Peter is a senior lecturer at the University of Amsterdam who specialises in the history of consumption. His current project focuses on the impact of civil society on the development of consumer society and promoting sustainable consumption. https://www.uva.nl/en/profile/d/a/p.h.vandam/p.h.vandam.html?cb&cb .

“A lot of people feel they’re living to consume, and they don’t feel comfortable: they no longer have a close relationship with the things they own, because the next day you throw them away and buy something else.” – Peter van Dam

We're blown away by advertisements. Many big companies even spend more money on marketing than on paying the people that produce the product that they want to sell.
We're blown away by advertisements. Many big companies even spend more money on marketing than on paying the people that produce the product that they want to sell.

We always want more and more and we compare with others what we have ánd not have. We can never really feel satisfied because others are also expanding their collection. That means that we are stuck in a consumption loop in which the grass is always greener…

“There is always somebody who has an even nicer car or an even nicer phone, and I want that one. So it’s kind of an endless cycle.”  – Peter van Dam

Craving for something new

“Another contributing factor to why we consume is that it is in our nature to crave new experiences,” says Miquel Ballester Salvà, Head of Product at Fairphone. When we feel the urge for a new experience, we often think of buying something new. And companies know very well how to play into this. Tempting us to buy the ‘latest and greatest’ has turned into a multi-billion euro marketing industry. It is no surprise that shopping has actually turned into many people’s ‘hobby’.

Not on consumers’ shoulders only

While the grass is always greener, our buying habits are not. Have a look at your phone. Think of how long this one has been in your pocket and – more importantly – how long it still will be in your pocket. Every year big companies release a new model with some better features. For example, the camera of a phone gets updated. We are programmed to want the latest and greatest, so we buy it. But for the sake of our planet, we have to change our society not only through our consumption but from within the industry as well. We have to go from the newest model to a long-lasting, modular product. 

“I think it’s really important not to put it on the shoulders of the consumers. It’s a whole conundrum of the government, companies and consumers together creating a culture that is in that sense not sustainable.” – Peter van Dam

Fortunately, more and more companies do take their responsibility seriously and take a different approach. A great example is the Dutch sustainable electronics company Fairphone.

Fairphone is the first smartphone company that creates modular and self-repairable phones. They set an example for the rest of the industry and try to change it from within.

Setting an example

Fairphone asks people to use their current phone for as long as possible. They make phones that are made to last. Their modular phones make it easy for anyone to simply repair the phone themselves.  You can read more here about why they fight for the Right To Repair. Also, it is the only smartphone company that provides a five-year warranty. And they are dedicated to providing software updates as long as possible. Everything that Fairphone does, is done with the goal of really changing the industry, for good.

Changing Consumer Culture

It is not easy to change consumer culture, but it certainly is possible. We asked Peter van Dam to name a few things that consumers, companies and governments can do to change our unsustainable consumer culture.

  • Companies should take a much more long-term view and start taking externalities into account by structurally considering the impact of their actions on the environment and social relations;
  • Governments should set boundaries, thinking about what is socially and environmentally not acceptable. And at the same time, they should incentivise companies that do want to make a change. Finally, Peter encourages governments to look beyond economic indicators and to also consider other factors, such as environmental impact, our social relations, the amount of leisure time and the amount of stress in our lives;
  • Consumers should simply count to ten to prevent an impulsive buy. Secondly, he suggests asking ourselves a few questions like: ‘Do I really need this? Why am I buying this? What needed to happen to actually produce this item?’ And finally, by consciously choosing to buy products from companies that care.

 

Make memories and experiences

As Peter van Dam said to BrightVibes, we live in a society that sometimes seems to revolve around consumerism. We constantly want to upgrade our existence by buying new products.  And smartphones are a great example. Fairphone takes a very different approach though. Fairphone is on a mission to change the electronics industry and also our mindset on consumerism. Miquel Ballester told BrightVibes:

“At Fairphone we want to sell phones only to those who need them. The best approach is to keep whatever phone you’re using as long as possible and when that doesn’t work anymore, consider a Fairphone.”

We cannot and should not totally stop consuming, because if we did, the economy would fall apart and more importantly, we would not survive. But we can change our mindset on buying products and add more value to making memories. Have a longer dinner with friends, go to a dance performance, get inspired and have experiences. And when we do buy things, let us support companies that care about people and the planet (and create awesome phones like Fairphone ;-))

Miquel Ballester Salvà, Head of Product and founder of Fairphone

“Many other things can bring us the same pleasure that consumerism brings us in a different way and in a way that still connects us with others in our community, but does not take resources from the earth.” – Miquel Ballester Salvà

 

Make an Impact

Change is in our hands

Fairphone wants you to use your phone as long as possible. But if your phone is about to break down and it cannot be repaired anymore… think of buying a Fairphone as your best next. Change is in your hands!

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Michiel de Gooijer
18 days ago

As founder of BrightVibes I am not totally objectieve but I bought a Fairphone 4 when my old phone, after four years, could no longer be used… As a user, I really like the phone and I love all that the company represents.

djen
18 days ago

I’d quite like one really. However, even when mine breaks down I can’t afford one. I usually get my grandchildren’s castoffs. The reason I need one is because I wear hearing aids and there are various things that can be done better if I have a more up-to-date Android system. Never mind.

wigi
16 days ago

I am from Kenya….please bring Fairphone* here and other technologies for a society that is still on the worrying curve to western style consumerism. The societies in Africa need more opportunity to develop cultures of resilience to the “obesities” of consumerist addictions.

Thank You

however we need pricing mechanisms that make such items actually affordable.