Sound Off 4: Valuebased Consumption

Last September I wandered into the FLOWmarket at the Dansk Design Center in Copenhagen. I was immediatley engaged when I entered the installation. Generic packaging framed phrases that were both poignant and hopeful: a carton of "1/2 minute with one another", 50 pills of "lifestyle related disease killers", a salve of "naturalness", a gallon of "sustainable innovation".

Its designers say, "theFLOWmarket™ is a shop designed to inspire consumers to think, live and consume more holistically," — a call to purchase goods of sustainable value and a critique of our buying habits. It's the same philosophy that has been a key component to the recent success of the LEED rating system, the about face of Walmart, the waiting list for Prius and the growth of Whole Foods. It's the upside of a free market: competition = wealth. When manufacturers believe they are losing sales they will provide an improved product. These days, that can translate to the production of sustainable goods because that's what we, the consumer, want. We want organic foods. We want alternative energy. We want recyclable goods…

So, does eco-materialism justify our desire? YES. Though there is the risk of deceiving oursleves with a notion that we can procure a bright future, there are purchases we must make on a regular basis, and some are better than others. I'll choose a quart of "renewable" over a gallon of "finite" any day. I believe our particular challenge, and that of our customers, as providers of "sustainable goods", is to avoid the pitfall of opportunism by practicing what we preach and buying what we sell.

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