A new study finds that Britons are consuming less than they did a decade ago, with similar patterns being seen across Europe. Could this be the beginning of a trend in developed countries? Might we be reaching “peak stuff”?
Will rich societies start consuming less? Could wealth go green? Might parsimony become the new luxury? Heresy, surely, you would say. But it might just be possible. Take Britain. A new study finds that the country that invented the industrial revolution two centuries ago reached “peak stuff” between 2001 and 2003. In the past decade, Britain has been consuming less water, building materials, paper, food (especially meat), cars, textiles, fertilizers and much else. Travel is down; so is energy production. The country produces less waste, too. This analysis is not the product of data juggling by a free-market think tank. The author of the study is Chris Goodall, a fully-paid-up environmental activist and parliamentary candidate for Britain’s Green Party, but also a stat guzzler who once worked for McKinsey & Company. His books include How to Live a Low-Carbon Life. The stats hold true even when you allow for the ecological footprint from the manufacture of imported goods. And, while the decline in resource use in Britain has accelerated since the economic crisis in 2008, the trend started long before the banking crisis. There was a decline in overall materials use of 4 percent between 2000 and 2007. So it cannot be attributed entirely to recession, and can be expected to survive economic recovery.