Differences between Consumerism and Environmentalism

Consumerism and Environmentalism are often viewed as mutually opposing constructs. While consumerism emphasizes on the accumulation and consumption of material resources, environmentalism advocates resource conservation and long-term sustainability.

Philip Kotler defines consumerism as a "social movement seeking to augment the rights and power of buyers in relation to sellers" (1972).


Consumerism is the belief that personal wellbeing and happiness depends to a very large extent on the level of personal consumption, particularly on the purchase of material goods. The idea is not simply that wellbeing depends upon a standard of living above some threshold, but that at the centre of happiness is consumption and material possessions. A consumerist society is one in which people devote a great deal of time, energy, resources and thought to “consuming”. The general view of life in a consumerist society is consumption is good, and more consumption is even better.

Example − Modern day India is a classic example of an almost consumerist society. People are constantly bombarded with advertisements, on print, television, and social media, urging them to buy things. Such advertisements not only promote specific products, but also a vision, a larger idea, of “the good life” and what it takes to be happy. Shopping is touted not as a necessity but as a recreational activity. People go deeply into debt in order to buy things beyond basic necessities − a larger house, a smart television, a fancy car. The banks and NBFCs are ready with loans and credit cards, pushing people even deeper into this vicious trap.

Consumerism − A Huge Impact On Environmental Sustainability

A question arises, why is consumerism a problem? One major problem is that consumerism has a huge impact on environmental sustainability. The more we consume, the more it impacts the nature. Not only the natural resources are depleted to fulfil the consumerist needs, but also the aftereffects of consumption affect the environment badly. If we want to analyse the impact of human activity on the environment, the real issue is not only production but consumption and its patterns and effects. Goods and services will not be produced, bought, sold, and traded across borders, unless there is a demand for them (Rothman 1998).

Special attention should be paid to the demand for natural resources generated by unsustainable consumption and to the efficient use of those resources consistent with the goal of minimising depletion and reducing pollution. Although consumption patterns are very high in certain parts of the world, the basic consumer needs of a large section of humanity are not being met. This results in excessive demands and unsustainable lifestyles among the richer segments, which place immense stress on the environment.

For example, although the consumption of non-returnable beer bottles went up by almost 600% in the period 1950-1967, actual consumption of beer per capita increased a mere five percent. Thus, the affluence gain to the beer drinker has been slight, whereas the technology chosen to package and deliver the beer, which is of no use to the consumer, has changed dramatically at the expense of the environment.

In a globalized market economy consumption has potentially no physical limitation and, as far as a commodity is produced, the market is able to provide it at an equilibrium price. Therefore, consumption can also determine environmental dumping as far as developed countries shift their heaviest polluting industries to less developed countries. In other words, developed countries consume pollution intensive goods produced elsewhere by developing countries.

Significantly, the levels of CO2 emissions and municipal solid waste, both of which arise directly from consumption activities, like per capita energy use, continue to rise with income.


Environmentalism is used as a general term to refer to concern for the environment and particularly actions or advocacy to limit negative human impacts on the environment. Such concerns and actions are not new and the roots of what we now understand to be environmentalism can be traced back to ancient civilizations.

The rise of consumerism leads us towards environmentalism, an essential counter to the former.

Contemporary Environmentalism

Contemporary environmentalism is associated with a range of social and political movements that have emerged to promote particular environmental philosophies and practices. There have been numerous attempts to classify these activities with most adopting a dualistic strategy contrasting those who are concerned to protect the environment for its own sake (ecocentrism) and those who are concerned with the environment because of its role in human development (anthropocentrism).

However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to group the range of environmental concerns, organizations, and actions in this way, not least because the 21st Century has seen environmental concerns increasingly addressed through various forms of public policy.

Systemic Environmental Challenges

Nonetheless, systemic environmental challenges remain, and emergent varieties of environmentalism with novel qualifiers—including “new,” corporate, authoritarian, and even post environmentalism—are being identified and debated across disciplinary boundaries and between academics and activists as well as policy makers and shapers.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Brown, founder, and president of the Worldwatch Institute, championed the theme of a ‘sustainable’ world society in many learned writings addressing such problems as overpopulation, non-renewable energy sources, and harms done by industrial production to natural systems.

The term, ‘sustainable development’, first appeared in the World Conservation Strategy drafted by the United Nations Environment Programme. UNEP and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN in 1980. It should be advanced through ‘conservation’, defined as ‘the management of human use of the biosphere so that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations.’

Environmental Issues

The environmental problems which may arise in India, due to population growth, increased industrial and agricultural activities, may lead to depletion of natural resources in the next 25 years. It emerges from different studies that two of the most serious problems which India may face in 25 years' time are water pollution and deforestation. Population in India is projected to reach around 1.25 billion, 65% of whom would be living in rural areas.

Human Activities Reduced Environment's Capacity

The environment's capacity to absorb the concomitant wastes and pollution would be significantly reduced through the consequent growth of human activities. At present, in the rural areas, the percentage of population with piped water-supply and exclusive sanitation facilities is less than 10%. Unless drastic measures are taken, this percentage may not exceed 30%. Without appropriate sewerage and sanitation facilities, the accumulated wastes could mix with open-water resources, so leading to high levels of water pollution. The effects of mixing agricultural runoff containing wastes, pesticides, and fertilizers, in the rural water-sources, would also need consideration.


The current practice in the rural areas of obtaining more than 90% of domestic fuels from non-commercial sources—firewood, animal dung, and agricultural wastes—even if considerably reduced, may continue and lead to deforestation and hence to soil erosion, floods, climatic changes, and loss of precious varieties of flora and fauna. Such burning leads to air pollution as well.

Apart from the problems of water pollution and deforestation, the problems of the urban areas include increasing slums, inadequate transportation facilities, and industrial pollution—all of which would have to be dealt with. Finally, the present status of environmental legislation is reviewed, and certain policies and intense efforts for generating environmental awareness are recommended.