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Less material consumption is not the end for business

May 14, 2015

Less material consumption is not the end for business

Jules Pretty
Thursday 14 May 2015 16.21 BST

The past half century has seen dramatic lifestyle changes for people in affluent countries. Per person, GDP in the UK has risen nearly four-fold. Each of us consumes more, has more stuff, benefits from abundant technology and transport, there is more diverse food and better housing, and we live longer.

Yet there is a worrying fact: average wellbeing and happiness across whole populations has not changed over 50 years.

This seems odd. Every government in all affluent countries wants their economy to grow; all engage in collective panic when material consumption slows or stops. In the poorest countries, of course, more consumption is good. It means food, shelter, water, education, transport. Yet after about $10,000 (£6,300) per capita GDP, the returns for wellbeing flatten off.

One explanation for this is that material consumption also produces many costly side effects on both human health and the natural environment. It gives with one hand and takes away with the other. The external costs of modern living have risen dramatically. Now we have to spend to solve the problems created by the very material consumption we thought was solely good. The costs of conditions and diseases caused by modern lifestyles are eye-watering. We have calculated that seven conditions – mental illness, dementia, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, loneliness and cardiovascular disease – now cost Britain’s NHS £60bn a year and result in £184bn of costs to the whole economy. The revenue expenditure of the NHS is some £100bn annually.

Read more at The Guardian.

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