A.pril 2020. Visits to restaurants are forbidden, shops are closed, the streets are deserted, people leave the house as rarely as possible. The dm branch in Frankfurt-Grüneburgweg is more crowded than ever: while the cashiers scan organic hair treatments and vanilla scented candles and spelled flour, customers stroll through the aisles as if it were the best of the day.
150 meters further on, in Rewe on the same street, there are different products, and yet it’s the same game. The shop is full of customers at any time of the day, who take more time to shop and end up carrying more on their way home than they used to.
At home, the empty packaging is piled up in swaying towers because the Amazon messenger rings every day and the waste paper bin is constantly crammed to the brim, but the garbage collection has only just returned. All over the country, home offices will be spiced up this spring 2020, new slippers and pans and vases will be bought.
Several thousand liters of water for a T-shirt
Did we actually need all of these purchases, viewed from a little distance? Certainly some things, but certainly not others. According to statisticians, every German citizen owns 10,000 things on average. We buy and hoard and keep buying.
Don’t we know that it harms the climate and the water and the animals and that the resources of the planet are actually too precious for our lives to be in abundance? Of course we know that. We have also heard that the fashion industry emits more CO₂ globally than aviation and shipping combined. Or that it takes several thousand liters of water to produce a single cotton T-shirt. Nevertheless, we continue to surround ourselves with useless stuff.
And now that everything is open again, we should do “revenge shopping”. So buy more too much. For your information: the retail sector has already earned more in 2020 than in the previous year. More than ever before.
We actually want to be completely different. Maybe not all – but many of us. 40 percent of all Germans feel the need to shop more consciously and sustainably, says the Nuremberg-based consumer research company GfK. Interestingly, this applies to all generations from young people to retirees. This includes, on the one hand, buying less and, on the other hand, making sure that you comply with certain ecological and social standards when shopping. At least now and then.
We would like to be ten times as sustainable
But there are worlds between claim and reality. Scientific studies report a discrepancy of one to ten: people behave ten times less sustainably than they actually expect of themselves. A miserable record for people and the environment.
But why do the noble goals so often become lip service when subjected to the reality check? The simple explanation is: renunciation is no fun. It is nicer to own something than not to own it. Furthermore, in order to forego, one must resist a powerful impulse. We collect what we can get, we are evolutionarily programmed for that. And a great many people live from the fact that this constant consumption loop continues to run. When a bunch of advertising flutters into the house again, digital and analog, at some point the thought comes: Whether the environment will be saved is not in your own hands anyway. And the next sweater is in the closet.
Buying is much less trouble than doing without. It kills boredom, brings joy and distraction. The desire for more is even physical. Firmly anchored in the brain.