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Guest Column: We are the 5 percent

Excerpt from a guest column by Paul Ventura, chair of the sustainable business department, in the Sustainable Energy Guide, January 2012. Marylhurst University is a sponsor.

I try to avoid Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It's not that I don't like to buy things. I just don't like to be driven to buy because something is a good deal.

With billions of people unable to meet their basic needs there's something distressing to me about the idea of consuming for the sake of consuming, like a dog chasing its own tail.

Patagonia, whose founder Yvon Chouinard has long advocated for limited business growth, placed a full-page ad in Thursday's New York Times, with the heading, "Don't Buy this Jacket." The company explained: "We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else."

As the good business folks at Patagonia realize, we are the 5%. That is, as Americans we comprise less than 5% of the world's population but consume 20 to 30% of its resources.

Is there an exit ramp from this spending highway?

The answer might be found in the movement toward collaborative consumption, a fancy name for sharing. A recognized example of a business model using shared access is Zipcar, whose subscribers have access to a variety of cars from a Toyota Prius to a Mini Cooper when they need them.

Why is responsible consumption important to me, especially in my role as the administrator of an MBA in sustainable business? Isn't it a goal of business to increase purchasing? Isn't continuing consumption the engine of economic growth?

Both business people and the public are answering "not necessarily" to these questions.

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