[Intern Insights] Imagining the Future: Retail and Consumerism, How they affect the World
What is the consumerism?
Consumerism in one of its interpretations is a doctrine which states that the increasing consumption of goods and services is the basis for a healthy economy (Business Dictionary, 2017). In other words, for a society to function properly, it must produce and sell goods and services (Shah, 2005). Capitalism 101. The more that is produced, purchased, and consumed, the more successful and prosperous the economy becomes. This culminates in the yearly gross national product (GNP), the measure of success every nation uses to rank its economic power (ibid).
What does that have to do with the Retail Industry?
Retailers are defined as the final link between manufacturers and consumers. Basically retailers are where demand and supply meet (The Balance, 2017). Philosophically, we could say that the retail industry is the wheel that turns the global economy. Round and round it goes. Yet, when mentioning consumerism, we often get a very negative impression. As if the world has gone bad. How can the world go bad, when the economy goes well? Does the wheel spin both ways?
I have touched on this subject on my previous entries. The moment when we, as consumers, ask for more goods, more performant, better quality, state-of the-art versions, we really confuse that poor wheel. Why? Even though we drive the economic forces that may result in a better purchasing power and life quality for us, we run the risk of stealing the same benefits from other people in other parts of the world. Or worse, we may be robbing future generations.
I am talking about the gap between the amount of resources we have and the speed through which we are using and misusing them.
Let’s take a classic example. Fast food restaurants such as KFC and Pizza Hut are designed to cater to the masses by providing food at a lower price (Global Issues, 2016). This way they are taking advantage of the economy of scale, having more beneficial prices from suppliers because of the sheer quantity that they demand.
At the same time, they create a competitive landscape putting in motion economic forces, such as the purchasing decision. Everybody’s got to eat. But what happens on the other side? Intensive breeding of livestock and poultry meant just for these restaurants. More animals means more space to house them, things to feed them, all of which can lead to deforestation, land degradation, contamination of water resources, etc.
If we were to transform this into an equation, it would look something like this:
…for every pound of red meat or poultry or egg or milk produced equals the loss of five pounds of irreplaceable top soil from farm fields.
…for meat breeding one animal per day requires 190 gallons of water which equals ten times the amount of water that a normal Indian family requires per day. The sad truth is that animal farms use nearly 40 percent of the world’s total grain production (ibid.).
But this is food you might say!
We buy food, folks! It’s still on the retail side!
What does that have to do with the Future?
If we imagine the future we tend to always have these shiny, sleek qualities in mind. Everything is high-tech and functional and ordered and efficient. But this future will happen only for some people. For others, it will be messy, with masses of lands sliding away due to deforestation, limited resources of water, leading to relocation, poverty and famine. And suddenly you find yourself in Elysium with Matt Damon fighting societal inequality.
In an ideal future, all people would have access to the same resources, have the same possibilities, the same potential. Now we are digging at the roots of Marxist communism. Every way we turn a turn the wheel there seems to be a danger waiting for us.
Let’s stop the wheel. Let’s think about what we are doing and most importantly WHY we are doing! The retail industry is a powerhouse. Let it be a force for good.
If retails would think WHY they are supplying or enticing demand when it would not be necessary, their answers would be connected to the financial aspect. But future retailers…what would they say? Would they even exist? There is a precarious balance between the economical rise and downfall, sustainable development and environmental collapse. They’re all specks on a wheel and they’re turning our world.
Consumerism pushes this wheel but it can also break it. Would it be difficult to temper our needs and wants? We want so much more than any human wanted in the history of this planet and we are surpassing nature’s rhythms to supply us. What happens when demand exceeds supply? Scarcity. Economy 101. Unfortunately, this scarcity involves our home at a planetary level. And for now, it’s our only possible home.
What happens when the curtain falls?
Nobody knows what will happen, but we know for sure that the curtain must not fall. The rising awareness of consumer’s action over the environment shapes the new economic dynamics. Personally, I will pay attention to what I am buying and why. If I do need it or if 50% of the time I am just indulging myself. Because if it is the latter than I must change. Mother nature deserves more consideration. And if I can change just one person’s mind about it and that individual would change another person’s mind…well…with the risk of sounding cliché…we would change the world. So, let’s spin the wheel of fate!
This post is brought to you by one of AQ’s Undergraduates, Laura Susnea. As part of our internship programs, undergraduates and classic interns are encouraged to take part in company culture. Laura’s primary project focusses on training programs and eLearning and how best to adapt this to industries under pressure.