Reflections on: ‘Sustainability Sense: Creating value in an economic downturn’ PP4SD conference, 23rd February 2010, Thistle Hotel, Victoria, London.
Responding to our values: Pseudo satisfiers and Sustainability Non-sense
I value nature, I get upset, angry and frustrated when I learn about the innumerable ways in which it is exploited by business, individuals and governments. I feel uncomfortable when I engage with social actors who are not doing their upmost to lessen their unsustainable behaviours. Ideally I support more sustainable competitors to send out market signals and fill out feedback forms like this one (http://www.thistlefeedback.com/) with constructive criticism and offers of help and advice. Beyond that, there is not much else I can do as an individual; it is out of my sphere of control. But these actions are enough for me to maintain my emotional wellbeing.
Paul Maiteny taught us yesterday about the importance of emotion; our emotional drives as educators and the importance of exploring, even challenging the emotions of others. An exploration of our emotional wellbeing and the reasons why we value the things we do is very important. When the things we value appear under threat we get emotional and feel moved to act. It is a crude thing to say but a lot of people still believe (or at least behave as if they do) that material wealth = happiness, they therefore value the ‘wrong’ things environmentally and, if you agree with the Affluenza5,6,7,8 hypothesis, the ‘wrong’ things emotionally. The consequence is a ‘take, make, waste’ economy with an infantalised9 population that is constantly in need of external stimulation and consequent gradual but persistent environmental degradation. As educators, in whatever capacity, we need to help people unpick the material wealth = happiness paradigm at personal, sub-systemic and systemic levels. And, importantly, we need to help them to truly connect with the values that are inherent within us all. We need to help them discover true satisfiers and protectors of the things they value to replace their cravings for the pseudo-satisfiers, which keep them locked on the hedonic treadmill1.
What does this do at the systemic level, within business? I don’t know. If a business recognises that its future success is tied up in some direct or indirect way with the persistence of the material wealth = happiness paradigm, they may be resistant to ‘training’ that encourages its employees and customers to question it. If it truly wants to be sustainable, it may recognise the long term benefits of a wellbeing based economy and seek to change itself to be at the forefront of making it happen. To do this it will need an employee base that understands and values this approach; workers who feel proud to be an employee, customer and advocate.
People value ‘unsustainable’ things not because they hate the environment, but because they believe that these things will protect or enhance the deeper things they value like love, happiness and respect. It is the value we place on pseudo-satisfiers that needs to be explored, not our underlying, core values. Is it possible to find and access the people we need to explore it with?
- Easterlin, R.A. (1974) Does economic growth improve the human lot? Some empirical evidence, In: David, R. and Reder, R. (Eds.), Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses Abramovitz. New York, USA, Academic Press
- Phillips, M. (2009) Emotional Wellbeing In: Stibbe, A. (Ed), The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, UK, Green Books
- Simms, A. & Smith, J. (eds.) Do good lives have to cost the earth? UK, Constable and Robinson Ltd.
- De Botton, A. (2004) Status Anxiety, UK, Penguin
- De Graff, J., Wann, D., and Naylor, T.H. (2002) Affluenza. The all consuming epidemic, USA, Berret-Koehler Publishers
- Hamilton, C. and Denniss, R. (2005) Affluenza. When too much is never enough, Australia, Allen and Unwin
- James, O. (2007) Affluenza, UK, Vermilion
- James, O. (2008) The Selfish Capitalist, UK, Vermilion
- Barber, B.R. (2007) Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, New York, W.W. Norton and Company