Product / Service Substitution Database
Proposal in support of sustainable lifestyles
- / -
sustainable communities and lifestyles recognizes the need to change
"consumption patterns" in order to reduce the ecological footprint of those
adopting the advocated lifestyles. Many specific suggestions have been put
forward with respect to energy, food, water, transportation and the like. These
are the subject of international, national, regional, municipal and household
programmes, notably in relation to the recommendations of Agenda 21.
At the same time
there is considerable pressure to enhance lifestyles and quality of life
through use of more sophisticated energy-demanding products and services.
Indeed significant sectors of the economic are dependent on persuading people
through skilled marketing to adopt these new products which tend to increase
the ecological footprint of those so persuaded.
Aside from the
concern to improve lifestyles, this proposal also addresses needs of those who
are economically and socially disadvantaged and do not have access to
particular products, but may have access to their substitutes. This may be
especially relevant in the event of disaster and catastrophe as addressed by
civil defence and humanitarian relief programs, when they occur or in
anticipation of them.
This proposal is
concerned with the design and implementation of a database that would enable
people to recognize how the products and services they select are positioned in
relation to others that may substitute for them. The database is specifically
concerned with the economic and ecological consequences to a lifestyle of
replacing Product M by Product N.
Substitution pathways: The structure of the database, whereby different
products were (hyper)linked, would be such that users could explore the
opportunities for replacing their use of:
- Product M by Product N, where the latter implied
a lower economic and/or ecological impact. This would be the emerging pathway
seen by many constituencies to be essential as a basis for future sustainability.
It would be consistent with programs to encourage people to adopt more sustainable
lifestyles and consumption patterns.
- Product M by Product L, where the latter implied
a higher economic and/or ecological impact. This would be the traditional
pathway towards expanding growth and markets, and increased use of natural
resources. It would be consistent with marketing efforts to "upgrade"
customers to products and services they currently consider luxuries, and thereby
transform them into necessities that can sustain further market growth within
the current pattern of economic logic.
Hierarchical structure: The database records on "products" (or
services) might be either specific products or classes of such products (thus
grouping many specific products). In this respect use would be made of the
standard international classifications of such products and services. A
hierarchical classification would therefore also be used whereby products at
different logical levels were (hyper)linked.
Impact links: Where possible individual product records would be (hyper)linked
to environmental or social problems with which they were associated. An extensive
database of this type is maintained on over 30,000 "world
problems" by the Union of International Associations.
Remedial links: Where possible individual product records would be (hyper)linked
to remedial strategies seeking to reduce the environmental or social problems
associated with those products or services. An extensive database of this type
is maintained on over 30,000 "strategies"
by the Union of International Associations.
Sources of information
to this initiative may be obtained from sources such as:
- Civil defence, emergency preparedness programs
- Survivalist documentation, whether of the survival course or extremist
- Y2K preparedness databases
- Consumer product databases
- Community, living-simply literature
- Product marketing literature emphasizing how consumers can upgrade their
- Alternative (intermediate) technology literature
- Traditional technology literature (namely products replaced by modern technology)
Representation of coherent lifestyle patterns
Whilst a database as
outlined above could be of obvious value in guiding consumer choices in
relation to lifestyle preferences, valuable additional features could be
The problem in
opting for alternatives of lower ecological or economic impact is that the
sustainability of that choice tends to be determined by the meaningfulness of
the lifestyle pattern that it engenders. The strength of conventional product
marketing is lies in the ability to offer something that can be portrayed as
"better" in some way that can be experienced as lifestyle enhancement,
notably with a materialist emphasis. The experiential benefits of substituting
apparently cruder and less sophisticated products for the latest technological
breakthroughs is far less obvious, notably to those tantalized by the new and
the excitement of breaking out of old patterns.
The database must
there contribute in some way to rendering credible the coherence and
meaningfulness of the lifestyle pattern sustained by a set of product/service
choices. Whereas for some this may be a matter of belief or ideology - for
which they are prepared to sacrifice - for others the meaningfulness of the
consequent patterns needs to be articulated in new ways.