What better way to say ‘Happy Christmas Mum’ than with a box full of nothing?
That’s the question posed by Buy Nothing Day, an annual “international day of protest against consumerism” organised by Adbusters, the people who brought you Occupy Wall Street.
Handily coinciding with Black Friday – the day of sales after Thanksgiving, which has now inexplicably spread to the UK – Buy Nothing Day sees activists invading stores dressed as zombies, organising mass “credit card cut ups”, or simply sitting at home and not buying things.
Of course, skipping shopping for a day isn’t likely to put many retailers out of business, but as the organisers say, that’s not the point. It’s more about challenging people to think about their consumption habits and how they contribute to the “gigantic psycho-financial-eco crisis of our times”.
It highlights an important point about sustainability, one which many businesses try their hardest to ignore – at some point, does being a “sustainable business” mean actively discouraging consumers from buying things? Patagonia, with its “Don’t Buy this Jacket” adverts and Worn Wear programme, seems to think so.
That “psycho” part is important too. Adbusters champions the idea of the “mental environment”, and the effects on the human brain of the “incessant flow of logos, brands, slogans and jingles” that surround us every day, whether in the street, on our screens or in the latest batch of heartwarming Christmas TV adverts.
I was reminded of this by the recent announcement that Grenoble will become the first town in Europe to go completely free from street adverts. The municipality is planning to tear down the city’s 326 ad signs, including 64 billboards, and replace them with trees. Simultaneously cutting mental pollution while soaking up carbon emissions, it sounds like a win-win – although local businesses are understandably unhappy.
If Grenoble’s plan catches on, businesses may feel the pressure to prove that their adverts and products encourage responsible behaviour. The business case for creating resilient, waste-free products is made clear in Corporate Citizenship’s recent publications on the circular economy and the low-carbon company.
Companies need to step up to the challenge, or their customers might just start buying nothing at all – or worse, start buying from the competition.
Let us know if you beat the queues on buy nothing day.