Consumer? None for me thanks!

Stop calling me a consumer. I am a person.Some words definitely lose their meaning when used too often or too casually. The word “sustainability” comes to mind right off the bat. Even though it’s overused, many do not even agree on the definition of this important concept. The word “green” is used so frequently now, and for so many things, I’m starting to think I should have called my company ClearDream instead of GreenDream! Clarity can be a rare commodity these days, whereas green products (and green-washing) seem to be almost everywhere.

In my opinion, the worst, most over-used word in our society is “consumer.” In three short syllables, this word, as it is currently used in most media, reduces the depth, complexity and intelligence of a human being to a one-dimensional entity based on transactional value. Wikipedia says, “Typically when business people and economists talk of consumers they are talking about person as consumer, an aggregated commodity item with little individuality other than that expressed in the buy/not-buy decision.” True enough.

I have come to resent this label. It conjures up images of the old Pac Man video game where little yellow round heads that were mostly big mouths went around gobbling up everything they came across. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case for many of us. For example, even though the average home is more than twice as large as they were fifty years ago, many people still rent storage space for those extra items they just can’t bear to part with. Sometimes people pay rent on these places for years without ever using the stuff inside! At the very minimum, it is quite common to see garages so full of stuff that they cannot fit the cars they were designed for.

Why are our homes getting ever larger at a time when energy and building costs are sky rocketing? Well, marketers would explain that it is driven by “consumer demand.” Perhaps it’s the other way around.

From early childhood, people are assaulted with messages; images and sounds that create and then reinforce our roles as “consumers.” Where did the term “bigger is better” actually originate? The word “consumer” is so common that most accept it and its implications without a second thought. The real problem lies not in the semantics, but with the effect it is having on our lives and environment.

Unconscious consumption has led to unprecedented damage to our biosphere, and we are now beginning to pay the price. Due primarily to our unbridled exploitation of fossil fuel over the last century or so, we have broken the cycle of nature and created linear flows of materials and energy based on extraction, consumption and waste. Restoring the cyclical model, where waste equals food, is an important key to our future well being. Accomplishing this task requires our participation as thinking, rational human beings; NOT simply as consumers.

I suggest that we reject this demeaning label and its implication of brainless consumption. Instead, let’s rise to the occasion by celebrating our humanity to its fullest extent. As citizens, we become vitally important active participants in our democratic process. As persons, we claim our humanity and move away from being just another number in a company database. And when we do make purchases, we make them as thoughtful, informed human beings acting in our own best interests.

Would an informed citizen knowingly choose to buy a cheap product manufactured overseas that would expose them or their child to toxins such as lead? Obviously, manufacturers think there are plenty of mindless consumers who don’t care. That is a mentality that leads to disaster.

When companies get the message that people insist on being treated as persons, not just consumers, they will respond accordingly. As informed citizens, we can reshape the market by supporting products and services that are truly – here are those words again – green and sustainable. We can’t buy our way out of our environmental problems, but we can sure improve on what we’ve been doing so far!

The reduction of mindless overconsumption is as important to our future as a good education. Speaking of education, there is a great web resource on this topic called “The Story of Stuff.” It’s a short movie that explains the entire issue quite well. You can watch it at

A very good documentary on our materialistic culture is Affluenza. This film has been out for several years but it is well worth watching since the message is as current as ever. A quick search of the Clark County Library shows that they have copies available to check out.

There is tremendous power in the words we choose. And while only one word, the idea of person as “consumer” implies an economic process that is not in our best long term interests. We must choose a higher path; one that is yet another aspect of the process known as Green Living.

Watch Affluenza:

More Resources:

See how “consumers” are made by altering our perception of beauty: