|The year 2001 was significant for a number of notable events such as 9/11, the launch of Wikipedia and the invasion of Afghanistan. It was also the year that, according to environment writer and Green Party candidate Chris Goodall the UK’s consumption of ‘stuff’ not only reached its peak but began to decline. By ‘stuff’ we mean everything we use from food and fuel to flat pack furniture.
In an article written by Duncan Clark and published in The Guardian in November last year, Goodall says: “One thing that’s remarkable is the sheer speed with which our resource use has crashed since the recession. In the space of a couple of years, we’ve dropped back to the second lowest level since we started keeping track in 1970. And although the figures aren’t yet available for 2010 and 2011, it seems highly likely that we are now using fewer materials than at any time on record.
“The last few years has seen a revolution in terms of shopping habits, or more particularly in how people carry their purchases home. Gone are the days when supermarkets handed out free carrier bags by the thousand, to be replaced by Bags for Life, reusable cotton shopping bags and biodegradable carrier bags.Even though the UK economy was still growing rapidly in the early part of the new millennium, Goodall discovered that consumption had started to drop. He made this fascinating find trawling through the Material Flow Accounts published by the Office of National Statistics while writing a research paper on the UK’s consumption of resources.
The first to decline was the amount of paper and cardboard we use, followed by a fall in our use of what is termed ‘primary energy’ – heat and power generated by fossil fuels and other energy sources.
The trend has continued annually:
2001 – paper and cardboard
2002 – primary energy
2003 – household waste generated per person, meat consumption
2004 – new car purchases and water consumption
2005 – household energy consumption
2006 – the use of roads and railways
Perhaps counter intuitively all of this ‘decline’ was taking place while the UK’s population and GDP were rising.
What some readers may find hard to believe is that even our food intake is falling. Despite the widely reported increase in obesity levels, the total number of calories consumed by the great British public has actually fallen. And good news for the vegetarians out there – even our consumption of meat has been falling since 2003. This is one area where our American counterparts match us with meat consumption in the United States declining steadily over the last few years.
But even if the UK has started consuming fewer resources – it’s hardly going to save the planet. Carbon emissions are rising globally, rainforests are shrinking and entire species are disappearing.
Goodall acknowledges this. “I don’t want to suggest that the world isn’t facing massive environmental challenges. But the data I found does suggest the possibility – and it is only a possibility – that economic growth is not necessarily incompatible with addressing these challenges. Savvy marketing professionals across all industry sectors have switched onto the business, as well as environmental, benefits of choosing eco-friendly promotional products and stationery items.
He concludes: “It is a trivial example perhaps but economic growth, and the innovation that comes with it, have given us e-readers such as the Kindle, a way of allowing us to read books without the high-energy consumption required to make paper. Digital goods generally have lower environmental impact than physical equivalents and if growth speeds up the process of ‘dematerialisation’, it has positive – not negative – environmental effects.”
Material for this article has been taken from: