Peak Oil is something most of us have heard of – it is essentially the realisation that oil is running out but is more specifically defined as the point at which the extraction of oil has reached its maximum and goes into terminal decline as an available, naturally occurring resource. But now we are increasingly seeing media reports of Peak Stuff – its everywhere, every analyst and every economist has latched on to the fact that, for apparently no good reason, we have simply stopped buying as much ‘stuff’.
Even IKEA’s Head of Sustainability has publicly stated that consumer demand for ‘material goods’ has reached saturation point in the developed world. Peak Stuff isn’t the whim of a trend-setting click-bait journalist, nor is it a prank – there is actually substantial proof that Peak Stuff has already happened in the West.
Here in the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), despite sounding like the most boring place in the world to work, has recently released compelling data that would seem to prove that not only have we indeed stopped consuming as much stuff – we actually consume 33% less than we did in 2001. The data shows that on average in the UK people used 15 tonnes of material in 2001, compared with just over 10 tonnes in 2013.
That’s a lot less money spent on a lot less stuff.
Specifically, the stuff on which we are spending less includes furnishings, clothing, cars and consumer electronics. And despite what some social commentators are saying, apparently it transpires that there is a good reason why we’re consuming less stuff – and that reason is Earth-shatteringly simple…. we have enough stuff!
This is quite a radical shift, because it suggests that economic growth may no longer be driven primarily by material consumption. Although the reasons for the drop in consumption are likely to be more complex that simply a saturation of stuff, it still poses the question of where we are spending the money we used to spend on clothing and cars etc
And perhaps that question also presents a rather interesting opportunity for Crowdfunding, especially if instant consumer-item gratification has been supplanted by a keener interest in medium to long-term approaches to ownership and investment on a much grander scale.
Perhaps the Office for National Statistics isn’t the most boring place in the world to work after all. Maybe IKEA’s Head of Sustainability should think about asking the ONS for a job, as I wouldn’t have thought he has long left in the world of furnishings especially having already publicly highlighted the declining market for his own company’s products.