The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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Through its campaigns and spoofs, Adbusters draws attention to thenegative effects of over-consumption.
Image by Adbusters.

Household Economies

Consumption choices may lead us to a treadmill of high expenses, stressful work, and an inability to express our core values. We may trade wonderful time with family and friends — and simply being — for unnecessary things. We may move so quickly that we fail to use our values to guide our purchases and investments.

By examining household patterns of consumption and work it is possible to shift them towards alignment with core values. Dollars spent can be carefully calibrated against the time and stress incurred in earning them. It is possible to reclaim a sense of peace, of expansiveness, and of connection to the whole that is grounded in the awareness with which money, time, and resources flow through our lives.

It is helpful to recognize that we participate in three different human economic networks: the gift economy, the complementary economy, and the formal economy. The gift economy is characterized by spontaneous acts of love, nurturing, friendship, celebration, prayer, and Beauty and Play that circulate freely. The complementary economy includes local currencies and trading systems. The conventional economy includes all transactions made in national currencies. It ranges from small-scale businesses to vast corporations.

As scale increases, accountability decreases. Thus, the very freedom that money gives us — to travel, to avoid personal involvement in transactions, to purchase an unimaginable range of goods and services — carries with it the attendant costs of abstraction. We may begin to unconsciously support a wide range of potentially destructive activities.

If we are considering a purchase, we may ask ourselves: Do I really need this thing or service? Is it worth the life energy I must expend to buy it? A sustainable approach to consumption suggests that we embrace the non-monetized economy, which provides a rich source of meaning and community. We can also nurture creative forms of exchange with community members and organizations in the complementary economy. Within the conventional economy, we can support Green Businesses with a demonstrated commitment to social justice and ecological responsibility. Such enterprises typically employ Product Labeling to document their practices. Understanding the full range of options for fulfilling our needs and enhancing our quality of life gives us greater precision in our consumption choices.

Household Economies build Local Assets by avoiding unnecessary consumption, saving effectively, and pursuing ownership strategies. These assets provide a buffer against difficult times, and can provide seed capital for new enterprises or career shifts. They can provide increasing levels of financial independence over time. Ultimately, Household Economies help stabilize and anchor Local Economies and allow Economic Capital to be held much more broadly and .

Regain a balance between time, money, and work. Let social and ecological values guide purchases and investments. Generate more discretionary time, and a greater quality of life, by making more discerning consumption choices. Build household assets over time.

Examples of this pattern in action:

The Global Living Project
Presents intensive summerschool sessions where students learn to calculate their "ecological footprint" and reduce it through behavioral changes.

Making Room on the Shelves for a New Generation of Greener Goods
Excerpt from an article by Jennifer Bogo in emagazine.com. The American supermarket has always offered a virtual cornucopia of goods, but never before has the selection been quite so eclectic, or so green. Scan the shelves today and find toothpaste that contains no saccharin, preservatives or dyes and comes in 100 percent recycled paperboard packaging; vegetable-based, biodegradable, chlorine-free laundry detergent; a colorful array of organic yogurts and ice cream that comes in unbleached paper pints. Flip through a catalog for flashlights and radios that generate their own electricity, or fleeces made from the soda bottles you may have recycled on your very own curb. Pick up the phone to call Grandma, and your long distance company automatically donates money to a worthy nonprofit.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

New Road Map Foundation

Simplicity Circles

Center for the New American Dream


Andrews, Cecile. The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life. HarperCollins. New York, NY. 1998.

Dominguez, Joe and Vicki Robin. Your Money or Your Life. Penguin Books. New York, NY. 1999.

Merkel, Jimi. The Global Living Handbook. The Global Living Project. Winlaw, BC. 2000.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling