Advertising, Consumerism, and Environment
The major act of waste management strategy is ‘Reduce’ which is a part of three R’s strategy. But for that, we have to see the consumerism in relation to advertising also. When Cuba declared a ban on advertising of consumer goods in the country, many of the world’s economists and nations frowned on it as a dictated decision. At the time, it was said that it was imposed due to lack of purchasing power. But that also applies to many other developing countries which are flooded with neon-lights and billboards. After decades of criticism, in the view of vigorous environmental degradation and increased consumerism, the whole world is reconsidering the decision with both sides of the coin.
The time is coming when we have to rethink about our definition of the development. Western world postulates that material and social poverty are major causes of environmental degradation but in the practical world, it’s vice-versa. For the modern world, development has become an increase in a number of sky-scrappers, luxury facilities etc. But in reality, development means availability of basic resources and facilities for everyone such as clean air, clean water, affordable transport, housing, food etc. In our culture, sharing of resources and their management was an integral part of our system. There were many practices which were in proliferation some 20-30 years back which emphasized on the material use of required quantity. But the world thinks our frugality as our poverty.
Now the nation is going towards collectivism and material accumulation resulting in a social and economic imbalance. The society is moving on the track of consumerism. Consumerism is supported greatly by advertising. Advertising can be misleading in some cases and it can create a false image of the product and its use in the mind of the consumer. For example, there is an advertisement of a particular toothpaste company which is shifting the product from salt, lemon, Neem and in the end to charcoal (which are being used by the native people from centuries). There is another advertisement where the bacteria are being shown through the camera of a tablet PC which is a clear mockery of the intelligence of the consumer. These things indicate towards the sole purpose of industry, i.e. profit; without any social and environmental responsibility.
Advertising is against the basic principles of sustainable development and solid waste management which include three R’s strategy of reducing, reuse and recycle. Advertising plays with the psychology of the people and makes them want more of everything. People see new thing from clothing, electronics, interior decoration materials to even luxurious vehicles and advertising make them believe that they would be happy once they will have those things. All types of advertising are far from reality and need. It juggles with the perpetually embedded pursuit of happiness in human mind. In the larger cities, advertising also increases the demand for electricity, further increasing the fossil fuel use to generate it which again has a synergistic effect on air pollution increase, solid waste generation, thermal pollution. Over-production and over-consumption are also leading to the global climate change through an increase in fossil fuel use and accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The profit based, the narrow approach to a capitalist market is entirely against the safety of the environment, human race and other species.
As far as, we see the local communities of India, we had a nearly self-sustaining rural system before the dawn of market and advertising (leading us to the age of consumerism). The rural system depended on cities for very fewer products while cities were depended on villages for every small need. Advertising turned the scenario upside down by making the people from the rural area to believe that there were products which are necessary for them; which are considered as a luxury by them. There is seldom any advertisement of a product which is true to its claim. It creates a decomposing effect on the psychological, physical and economic environment. If we don’t see advertisements of products around us for the whole day in form of posters, billboards, neon lights, T.V. advertisements and radio announcements; how would we come to know about so many unnecessary products? When an economy or a nation is overrun by advertisements, the scenario becomes full of false distinctions between different products which manipulate consumer behavior and also increases the cost of the product for the consumer. Therefore, the advertising must be minimal and not mislead to consumers which can play a significant role in the safety of the environment.
Dr. Manbir Singh,
Department of Environmental Science,
Faculty of Allied Health Sciences,