Pope Francis Wants to Stop Consumerism. Here’s How.

Pope Francis ConsumerismPope Francis wants to stop consumerism. He has drawn a bright green line between excessive consumption and the destruction of the planet. In the many appearances he has made around the world, in correspondence he has had with world economic leaders, and in the encyclical he released in early 2015, he says “unbridled consumerism” has led to an unacceptable “assault on the natural environment.” It has to stop.


He is not opposed to people buying and consuming what they need, of course. Rather, Pope Francis wants to stop consumerism to tackle head-on what he calls the “culture of waste” and the destruction consumerism has wrought on both human and environmental ecology. In his weekly statement observing World Environment Day in June, 2013, Pope Francis said,

“We are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not ‘care’ for {creation}, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a free gift that we must care for. We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation…

“Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption…A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop ten points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of, as if they were trash.”

Pope Francis Climate ChangePope Francis has also called for a “revolution” on climate change. Here’s exactly what he says about it.

The Pope’s focus on consumerism is particularly important for Americans (me included) to hear. As Scientific American reports, Americans make up only 5 percent of the world population. But the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper.”

At this rate, says Scientific American, five earths would be needed for everyone in the world to live an average American lifestyle.

Here at Big Green Purse, I advocate using our consumer clout – i.e., shifting spending to the greenest products and services available – as one of the quickest and most effective ways to protect yourself and your loved ones as well as the Earth.

But first and foremost, I agree with the Pope that we not only can but should be buying less. In fact, in the Big Green Purse Green Shopping Principles I released way back in 2008, the first principle is “Buy less.” Here’s exactly what I said:

This should be a “no brainer.” Consumerism – buying what we don’t need, over and over again – drives unnecessary manufacturing that fuels climate change, pollutes the air and water, and destroys the places in Nature we love.

“Remember “reduce, reuse, recycle”? It still makes sense.”

Deciding to buy less and actually doing it is more challenging than it may seem. Even with the best of intentions, how do you get your hands on what you need without buying and buying and buying again?

Pope Francis Wants to Stop Consumerism. Here’s What You Can Do.

√ Question the very value of buying “stuff.” Do you think “retail therapy” when you’re unhappy or fed up with something? Do you see a new version of some product, especially mobile phones, computers and other technology, and buy into the “gotta have it” mindset? Are you into “fast fashion,” and find yourself updating your wardrobe constantly with the latest “trends,” even though they’re only going to last a couple of months? Compare the essential shopping you do to the excessive purchases you make. Where can you buy less?

√ Share. We all have clothes, tools, kitchen appliances, even vehicles we don’t use a lot of the time. The rise of neighborhood list-servs has made it easier than ever before to share what we have with neighbors and colleagues who need it.

√ Borrow. The other side of the sharing coin, borrowing is just as much of a godsend (no pun intended). I’ve borrowed dresses, books, ladders, slow cookers, folding chairs, baby clothes, dog leashes, yard sprinklers, holiday lights, spices I only need a pinch of, and the list goes on and on. I love that both sharing and borrowing save me money and reduce what I have to buy. But sharing and borrowing also build friendships and camaraderie, and those are two items I’d never be able to buy at a store.

√ Swap. If you’re a “this for that” kind of person, swapping is for you. It’s a great thing to do if you have kids – swap the toys your child has outgrown with a parent whose younger kids would love those toys and they’re happy to give you the fondu set they no longer use. Or swap a few hours of your computer expertise with another homeowner who is willing to help you in your yard. You get the idea.

√ Buy used. The recession of a few years back breathed new life into the ages-old practice of buying used rather than brand new. It saved people a lot of money and kept perfectly good household goods in circulation. I bet the Pope would give his blessing on continuing the practice.

√ Purge, Declutter, and Downsize. Make it a regular practice to get rid of things you’re holding on to but no longer use. In our neighborhood, every so often we hold a multi-family yard sale. We purge our households of items we no longer use, selling things very cheaply or giving them away to meet someone else’s need.

At least in my case, what I take down to the street never comes back into the house. If it doesn’t sell or isn’t taken, I cart it to the local church to sell at their annual bazaar.

I think Pope Francis would approve, don’t you?

Here are links to websites that make it easy share, borrow and swap.


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4 Responses to Pope Francis Wants to Stop Consumerism. Here’s How.

  1. Betsy (Eco-novice) September 22, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

    I am really happy with the leadership the Pope is taking on this issue. I find I often buy things because it is just the easiest path to getting what I want. But if I wait, and ask around or shop at thrift stores, I can usually find an alternative (or just go without). It’s partly just about changing our habits, I think.

    • Diane October 6, 2015 at 10:21 am #

      So true, Betsy. It has helped having someone of the Pope’s stature to remind us in a non-preachy, non-judgmental way that we can enjoy life more by consuming less.

  2. Clare (follow @EcoExpert1 for a daily Eco Tip) September 28, 2015 at 4:45 am #

    I think the Pope is doing a fabulous job of raising awareness of the problems of consumerism!

    (Making it a moral issue was a most interesting strategy).

    Reducing consumerism and buying less, using the strategies outlined in your article will definitely help – and will also have a positive impact on climate change when enough of us move away from mindless buying.

    The statistics you quote from Scientific American are frightening indeed.

    Thanks for the work you’re doing with Big Green Purse – your premise is absolutely correct, that women can be a powerful economic force for good.

    • Diane October 6, 2015 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Clare. Let’s keep the momentum going to go green!

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