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Revista Katálysis

On-line version ISSN 1982-0259

Rev. katálysis vol.15 no.1 Florianópolis Jan./June 2012 



"Conscious Consumption": Ecocapitalism as Ideology



Maria das Graças e SilvaI; Nailsa Maria Souza AraújoII; Josiane Soares SantosII

IUniversidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE);
IIUniversidade Federal de Sergipe (UFS);




The purpose of this article is to raise a set of questions about "conscious consumption." It is an essay of a bibliographic nature whose central thesis consists in affirming that in a capitalist society conscious consumption cannot be instituted as an affirmation of the principle of socioenvironmental sustainability. The paper presents the ideological nature of this formulation, which associates consumerism and the possibility of overcoming it only to the need for behavioral changes, without explaining its socioeconomic dimensions and its functionality as a mechanism for the reproduction of the destructive logic of capital.

Keywords: Consumerism. Conscious consumption. Ecocapitalism. Wastefulness.




The intensification of environmental destructivity has faced humanity with a set of problems that directly and indirectly impact the conditions for the reproduction of planetary life. The exponential increase in the amount of garbage, the contamination and reduction of potable water sources, global warming, deforestation, discardability and reduction of biodiversity are some of the increasingly more evident phenomenon. They affect the reproductive possibilities of the capitalist system and impact multiple ways of life, above all, those of the poorest segment of the working classes.

The alternatives presented as hegemonic in the environmental debate point to a set of technical and behavioral initiatives that defend improving capital and making it "ecological". The discourse promotes the ability of the system to make economic development compatible with environmental preservation, as long as individuals adopt more respectful stances towards nature. Under the mantle of socioenvironmental responsibility, the communication media regularly emphasize successful experiences, "sustainable business initiatives", revealing an unequaled ideological offensive that attempts to convince everyone that it is possible to overcome environmental degradation under capitalism.

A defense of the need to change "consumption standards" is highlighted in this debate, considering the immense waste of resources caused above all by the unchecked expansion of the consumption of discardable materials and luxury items. The idea is promoted that the intensification of consumption and the values that support it have aggravated environmental degradation and social problems.

The argument could not be more just and seductive: the unsustainability of the ruling model resides in the extreme polarization of access to the market and is manifest in excessive consumption by some, while a large portion of the world's population does not have access to the conditions required to satisfy their basic needs such as food, healthcare, housing and education. In this sense, it advocates that special attention must be dedicated to the demand for natural resources, caused by these trends, as well as the pollution which derives from it.

A "conscious consumption" movement has been gaining strength as a consequence of this reality, and is promoted by its theorists as an alternative to the growing wastefulness that mediates the relationship between society and nature. It involves converting consumption into a "conscious act", with special reflection on the impacts the use and production of goods have on society and nature. "The object of consumption, when conscious, goes beyond serving individual needs. It considers its reflexes on society, the economy and the environment"1.

Nevertheless, despite appeals from environmental organizations and consumers, consumption continues to grow as an imperative need for the dynamic expansion of production. The impacts of this dynamic on the environment are recognized even by economists from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), who report that economic growth in the countries considered developed has intensified pressure on the environment since the second half of the 20th century, and is expected to be accentuated in the next 20 years (KEMPF, 2010).

Continuously increasing consumption constitutes one of the essential traits of capitalist expansion, as an impulse to private accumulation. Nevertheless, in late capitalism, the development of the productive forces is directly related contradictorily and dialectically to "institutionalized waste" as an excellent way to accelerate the rotation of capital, given that the expansion of the circle of consumption in the interior of the circulation is a essential condition for the realization of value. Thus, the programmed obsolescence of goods exposes one of the most destructive faces of contemporary capitalism. For Mészáros (2002, p. 679), "consumption and destruction come to be functional equivalents from the perverse perspective of the process of capitalist realization."

This reality demonstrates that the promotion of "conscious consumption" despite its undeniable criticism of consumerism has been an ineffective strategy for confronting the waste of natural resources, because it places this problem in the individual sphere, with the goal of promoting a radical change in behavior, and it is up to all citizens to "play their part." "Conscious consumption" and the end of predatory practices, are thus presented as the responsibility of all of society, without distinction.

The ideological character2 of this discourse is evident: to the degree that it reiterates the principles and foundations of the commercial world even if it criticizes its most serious effects it reduces the possibilities for establishing environmentally healthy relationships, given that these are always socially mediated. This is to say that although they are expressed in individual attitudes, these relationships continue to be framed by alienation and bourgeois values that are quite far from having a "conscious intention."

At least two questions deserve to be highlighted. The first concerns the fact that, eager to make capitalist accumulation compatible with environmental preservation, the "conscious consumption" proposal transfers to the final consumer the responsibility for a process in which, far from being the protagonist, he or she in fact represents the most fragile link of the chain. Entangled in a web of seduction created by mechanisms meticulously studied by marketing and advertising, and lacking the minimum amount of information needed to guide his or her decision at the time of purchase when the consumer is not directly deceived the power that has been attributed in thesis to the individual consumer is reduced or completely nullified.

The discourse about the heightened role of the individual consumer contrasts with the strength of large corporations and their control over the market, expressed in the production of lifestyles, in the creation of appetites and behavioral standards, with pretensions of being innovative but which reaffirm the irrational use of natural resources and the subalternity of a portion of society confronted with the hypertrophy of the market. Finally, they involve the affirmation of individual and psychological solutions that have a strong moral appeal, which link the issue to behavioral norms and value judgments, while maintaining their fundamental causes untouched.

The second concern, related to the ideological side of this discourse, considers the possible incidences of this type of discourse in the realm of Social Work, considering its clearly moralizing basis, which can be conjugated with a trend that is historically present in the debate within this professional field. We are referring to the frequent attempts to "revise conservative thinking" which dispute hegemony in the various socio-occupational spaces, including those opened to the work of social assistance related to environmental issues. There has been an increasing incorporation of this issue to the agenda of demands for the profession, whether as projects executed by the so-called "third sector" (NGOs, business foundations etc), or in fields of work considered more "traditional" in which the transversality of the environmental issue appears as a consequence of the wider variety of social policies or even in institutions of a scientific-academic nature. Therefore, to consider the ideological nature of the discourse of "conscious consumption" in an attempt to demystify it is also a way to sustain the ethical-political bases constructed by the recent history of Social Work, considering its ineliminable condition as a foundation for the proposals formulated and implemented in exercising the profession.

The central thesis presented here is that under the prevalence of the global capitalist system, conscious consumption cannot be implemented as an affirmation of the principle of socio-environmental sustainability. Moreover, this formulation reveals its ideological character, to the degree to which it dilutes the social and economic determinations of consumerism, presenting it as a cultural phenomenon which should be confronted, essentially, based on changes in attitude removing it from its intrinsic determinations: the socio-metabolism of capital and its destructive logic.


Combatting consumerism: a question of attitude?

The expansion of consumerism as an exponential phenomenon of our time has produced growing concerns, considering its harmful impacts, both environmental and social. The dissemination by the communication media of lifestyles projected by the market as ideals of plenitude and human satisfaction have deepened "human banalization," leading increasing numbers of individuals to relate the act of consumption to possibilities for personal realization.

It is clear that the capitalist onslaught has been successful. The State of the World Report3 published in Brazil by the Instituto Akatu (2010, p. 4) leaves no doubt about this:

Consumption had tremendous growth in the past fifty years, registering a 28% increase in relation to the US$ 23.9 trillion spent in 1996 and six times more than the US$ 4.9 trillion spent in 1960 (in 2008 dollars). Part of this increase is the result of population growth, but the number of human beings grew only at a rate of 2.2 between 1960 and 2006. Thus, consumer spending, per person, has practically tripled.

This data, alone brings to earth the neo-Malthusian theses that attribute demographic growth a central role in the intensification of the "environmental question"4. The pressure on the planet's resources exhibit, beyond the demographic variable, a set of factors that result from the intensification of production and generalized discardability as strategies for shortening the lifecycle of goods and to increase the value of capital.

This report (2010, p. 4) presents other data:

Between 1950 and 2005, worldwide metals production grew six-fold, oil consumption eightfold, and natural gas consumption 14-fold. In total, 60 billion tons of resources are now extracted annually about 50% more than just 30 years ago. Today the average European uses 43 kilograms of resources daily, and the average American uses 88 kilograms. All in all, the world extracts the equivalent of 112 Empire State Buildings from the Earth every day.

The impacts of this trend on the world's ecosystems are disturbing: the scarcity of non-renewable resources, the level of global warming, the catastrophic effects of industrial waste and various pollutants are some of the evidence of environmental destruction5. The result, according to researchers, is a future collapse in the planet's capacity to supply natural resources to human beings, compromising, above all, the conditions of future generations to produce enough to satisfy their needs.

This destructive dynamic has been deepening, despite attempts to attenuate its most damaging effects, including the adoption of "clean technologies," the intensification of processes of environmental education or even the incorporation of socio-environmental indicators in commercial activities. In other terms, the logic of waste is maintained and intensified despite the reduction of raw materials and of energy per unit produced, as part of the measures to improve the production process.

There is no doubt about the impacts of consumerism on the growing dilapidation of nature. The increased production of garbage on a global level reveals the other side of this phenomenon with grave social repercussions. "Discardability provokes a global volume of increased non-organic garbage of some 40% around the world and of up to 60% in the more advanced countries" (BARREIRA, 2004, p. 119).

But, far beyond the disastrous effects on the environment, consumerism reveals one of its most perverse traits. In addition to being excessive, current consumption levels are highly unequal between nations and between social classes. Similarly, responsibilities for our current environmental problems are also asymmetric, and the poor assume the greater burden. This is because despite being the faction of the global population that consumes less, it is more intensively exposed to the socio-environmental consequences stemming from unsuitable living conditions, such as homes in areas of risk and their proximity to improperly destined waste. The discussion about the equation "economic growth" versus "measures to confront climate changes" is quite illustrative of this trend.

As the State of the World Report indicates (INSTITUTO AKATU, 2010, p. 6):

In 2006, the 65 highest income countries where consumerism is prevalent represented 78% of consumption spending, but only 16% of the world population. Considering only the United States, US$ 9.7 trillion was spent on consumption that year close to US$ 32,400 per person, which represents 32% of global spending made by only 5% of the global population.

The promotion of "conscious consumption" is part of a group of initiatives that intend to change this context. "Conscious consumption, sustainable consumption, responsible consumption" are the most common designations for these efforts. Their common basis is the incorporation of information about the product, and the ethics and sustainability of individual choices in the realm of the market, to consider both the positive and negative impacts involved in consumption. The appeal is for everyone to be engaged in the search for solutions to the grave problems of our time. This is achieved by incorporating environmentally healthy consumption habits, which are even offered by the capitalists themselves, whether in commerce, industry or even in the financial sector6.

    Isn't conscious consumption consumption?

    It is to consume differently: choosing the impacts that one wants to cause. It is to consume with solidarity: seeking positive impacts for the well-being of society and the environment. It is to consume sustainably, contributing so that the coming generations benefit from the miracle of life as we know it today on the planet7.

As was shown, the proposal for "conscious consumption' invokes and supposes the power to consume and the exercise of liberty in this act. We can ask: what information does the consumer have about the positive and negative impacts of a product? Who are those responsible for the dissemination of the limited information (if any) found on the labels of goods? What are, effectively, the power and the liberty of consumers in the act of consuming something?

In fact, the apparent equality between individuals, promoted by the defenders of the market economy, has been demonstrated to become more deceptive as the power of large corporations expands along with their increasingly concentrated control over global markets. In turn, growing urbanization has led to an expansion of services, the mass production of goods and their growing standardization, even if measured by the discourse of the individualization of needs.

In this context, the fragility of the consumer is revealed. Consumers are submit to unequal market relations, from the access to information about what they intend to consume which often present risks to health and individual security as well as the ability to defend themselves from abusive practices by companies. In this way, a set of asymmetries is found between the large corporations and their commercial apparatus (law offices, bill collectors and public relations) on one hand and the final consumer on the other, who has no time or resources to confront the power of the companies, according to Dowbor (2007, p. 16)

    With the expansion of corporate power we fail to be individuals who chose to become a stock available to a large supplier [...]; cartelization even makes options barely distinct [...]. They are new realities that have as a common denominator the fragility of the consumer.

The large economic conglomerates, although they compete among themselves and with the non-oligopolized segments, wind up dividing the market in specific areas of control, thus reducing their regulatory capacity. The weak regulation of the market and the State favor the concentration of power in oligpoloistic markets and accentuate the fragility of consumers. Technological development is the great leveraging force of this process, facilitating commercial transactions and reducing distances between the two poles of consumption: those who supply and those who consume. Nevertheless, "when oligopolized systems such as banks, telephony or others appropriate the process for themselves, it is the consumer who comes to be outsourced" (DOWBOR, 2007, p. 16).

In the course of technological advances, the communication media have assumed a decisive role, taking on a central role in the process of capitalist accumulation. Publicity and modern marketing strategies, appropriated as powerful tools at the service of capital, come to have increasing influence, based on the modern and varied media such as television that distribute information and seduce the population with images of a perfect, idealized world, making it appear that all individuals can participate in it as consumers.

Since the second half of the 20th century, advertising, especially the promotion of brands, is no longer tied directly to the quality of products and increasingly present images associated to lifestyle, the dream of beauty or the happiness offered by consumption (FONTENELLE, 2007). Amid the proliferation of discardable goods, this strategy has become increasingly effective, and companies no longer need to invest in efficient, long-lasting products, while it also disseminates a consumerist culture, whose ultimate goal is to offer new possibilities for capital accumulation. The data are illustrative:

    Perhaps the greatest commercial tool for inducing consumption is marketing. Global spending on publicity has reached US$ 643 billion in 2008, and in countries such as China and India it has grown at a rate of 10% or more per year [...]. Nevertheless, if advertising was not so effective, companies would not spend 1% of total global production to sell their goods (INSTITUTO AKATU, 2010, p. 11-12).

On the other hand, the strategy to combat waste, in which a change in consumer standards has an outstanding role, is nearly always related to technological innovation: "the combat of waste in the production process should take place through the adoption of technologies that are less energy intensive and that require fewer raw materials" (AGENDA 21 BRASILEIRA, p. 25)8.

Brazilian corporate thinking especially in the most dynamic industrial sectors has certainly incorporated the combat of waste within its factories as part of competitive strategies, integrated to private environmental management, whose goal is to reduce environmental damage and waste9. The scope of these strategies, never-theless, has been limited given that the anarchy of production prevails, which winds up neutralizing its positive impact. As we have seen highlighted during this study, the use of natural resources has expanded in recent decades, not because of these actions, but in spite of them.

The effort to analyze consumption is undoubtedly related to one of the most complex phenomenon of our time, given that the process synthesizes a broad set of contradictions that confronts humanity under capitalism: the permanent search to satisfy needs is mediated by the purchase and sale of goods, submitting the possibilities for human realization to the demands of the market and its voracious appetite.

In this sense, facing the universe of human needs, capitalism operates a dual process. On one hand it stimulates the development of the productive forces to produce "multiple and rich" needs. On the other, it limits them, provoking the impoverishment of people, and thus transforming the desire to possess into a synthesis of and a principal expression of wealth, the primary aspiration of humanity. To the degree that production constitutes the objective of man and wealth the objective of production (MARX, 1985), wealth itself is manifest in the form of things or objects, the result of a relationship external to the individuals who produce them10.

For this reason, contradictorily, at the same time in which capitalism promotes the exponential increase of social wealth, it makes the individual more poor by repeatedly alienating the human capacity for production of his or her needs, reifying them. Analyzing the impoverishment of human needs and capacities under capitalism, Heller (1986, p. 65) indicated two intrinsic processes: "reduction and "homogenization," which affect all social classes, although unequally. The author affirms:

    The need to 'have' is that to which all needs are reduced and which makes them homogenous. For the dominant classes, this having is an effective possession, it consists in the need directed to private property and money, to an increasingly greater degree. The workers' need to 'have', to the contrary, affects his mere survival: to live to be able to maintain oneself. [...]Workers should only have enough to want to live and should only want to live to have [...]. The worker should deprive himself of all needs to be able to satisfy just one, to remain alive11.

Our analytical route indicates that the foundations of consumerism and its very grave effects are found in the private ownership of the means of production, that is, in the very nature of capitalist accumulation. The "consumerist impulses" that so surreptitiously assault the human spirit today express the exacerbation of a structural trend of the bourgeois world.

Upon analyzing the expansion of consumption under late capitalism, Mandel (1985) added other variables. He affirmed that the causes of this phenomenon are not limited to the intensification of work which requires a higher level of consumption of foods and products of primary need as well as in the expansion of metropolitan regions, for which reason more time was needed for a worker to travel from home to work. Space thus opened for an infinity of consumption goods that save time such as automobiles and electronic appliances which became necessary for the reproduction of the labor force.12

On the other hand, it is increasingly evident that capitalism supports "artificial appetites" with the essential function of creating new markets and assuring the realization of value. This movement has led to successive criticisms about the standard of consumption in central countries and concern about their dissemination in the peripheral countries. The intensification of consumption, especially in the so-called "emergent" countries, imposes greater pressure on the planet's natural resources. This is aggravated by the fact that these countries' development strategies have barely or not at all considered the health of ecosystems, impacting life in both rural areas and cities. Note that the costs of environmental degradation have more intensely affected the poorest populations, revealing class mediations in the use of natural resources.

To confront this reality, the ideologues of "conscious consumption" understand that the "developing countries" must:

    Seek to achieve sustainable standards of consumption, guaranteeing meeting the basic needs of the poor, and simultaneously avoid unsustainable standards, especially in the industrialized countries, generally considered particularly noxious to the environment, ineffective and wasteful. This requires an "effort at technological support" and other forms of assistance by the part of the industrialized countries (AGENDA 21 GLOBAL, 1992, cap. 5, p. 2)13.

A question is raised: is the absence of technology due to intensified waste? To the contrary: the current phase of capitalism, of unfathomable scientific and technological progress, is a time of greater waste for humanity. Far from expressing random activity, in fact, science and technologies are used to stimulate the programmed obsolescence of goods and to assure profitability on a shorter time scale.

On the other hand, consumption, far from constituting a purely economic trend related to the needs of increasing the value of capital has increasingly assumed a cultural character, invoking the market as the kingdom for the realization of human aspirations. This produces significant impacts, mainly for workers, given that the quest to have and purchase more demands greater labor time to achieve an unachievable way of life.

In a context of fragile unions and utopias, the result of processes of productive restructuration on a global level, conformism combines with the increased precariousness of labor in a movement to convert into natural, and therefore inexorable, the needs for the self-reproduction of capital, confining the horizon of humanity to the act of to consume.

    Consumption becomes like this in a complex process by which corporations have regulated the behavior of individuals [...]. Today, this private regulation which is increasingly corporate in Brazil and in the world, has interfered in social relations in such as way as to condition them for consumption strategies (ANTAS JR., 2007, p. 101).

Once again the State of the World Report reveals:

    The most intense element of the stimulus to this cultural change were, it appears, commercial interests. On various fronts, businesses find routes to induce more people to consume. Credit, for example, was made flexible with payment in installments, and credit cards were widely stimulated in the United States, which led to a near 11 times increase in consumer credit from 1945-1960 [...]. Workers came to be encouraged to accept increased pay instead of more free time, to thus increase their income (INSTITUTO AKATU, 2010, p. 11).

It is clear, today, that the current political ideology that encourages "conscious consumption" formulates a criticism of consumerism that identifies commercial interests as stimulants of the environmental problems, but without confronting them: the criticism does not reach the bases of programmed obsolescence and its immanent determinations.

In addition, the conversion of this situation into a strictly moral norm has proven to be insufficient as a strategy to confront waste, given that the choice of what effectively constitutes satisfying the basic need for luxury or the realization of wealth is a purely individual definition. In this sense, the criticism of consumerism and waste "can only mean rejection of all forms of consumption and production that continue to restrict human development, making it petty and unilateral" (MANDEL, 1985, p. 277).

This study is based on the presumption that the problem of waste and therefore of rational consumption standards can only truly be confronted through a complete break with the capitalist world that could create the historic conditions needed to effectively overcome the individualist, competitive ethic, which capital encourages and upon which it is fed. It is based on an ethical reflection14, invoking the existence of a "system of needs" that are democratically constituted and radically subordinated to the dictates of the universal reproduction of humanity.

It must be remembered that man, as a material being with material needs, cannot achieve complete expression of a "rich individuality" by means of asceticism, self-punishment and artifical self-limitation, but only through the rational development of his consciously controlled consumption and which is consciously subor-dinated to his collective interests.

Thus, consumption, and similarly the meaning that it assumes as a social act, is socially, culturally and economically mediated. The awareness of these deter-minations constitutes a basic condition for society today, and is also necessary to be able to confront the real causes of its unlimited expansion. Therefore, demands are made for changes in produc-tion processes, so that longer

lasting products are placed in the market, which have greater technological efficiency in the use of natural and energy resources.

In these terms, the actions of consumer movements and organizations to demand changes in the productive processes, transparency of information about products, greater public regulation of the relationship between the consumer and producer, among others, are necessary and urgent, even if they are tangential and or provisory. What we are emphasizing, therefore, is the thesis that these changes do not affect the wasteful and destructive essence of the relations of purchase and sale of goods; and therefore do not establish the conditions for the transformation of consumption into a conscious act.



As was presented throughout the article, the fight against waste is "focused on consumption, which is, in the final analysis, a cultural change". This involves investing in behavioral inversions, in the promotion of a new standard of consumption that emphasizes commercial transactions of non-polluting and long-lasting products. This proposal, while it obscures the reasons for programmed obsolescence and its material and symbolic capacity to induce increased consumption blames the consumer, who does not have power over what circulates in the market; or the power to eliminate the growing trends towards waste in the system.

This is not to deny the importance that consumers have a critical awareness of both their real needs and those of the nature of the products that they purchase (origin, components, impacts etc.). We emphasize, however, that the historic determinations of the production of value deny the individual the opportunity to be effectively free in his or her choices, even if they are of an essentially commercial nature.

It is true that cultural changes are necessary15 but, as already argued, a cultural inversion cannot overcome the alienation of our time which has, in consumerism, one of its most significant expressions if it does not promote a break in the structure of capital and its productive and genetically anarchic logic. Propositions that alienate culture from economic and political determinations establish illusions, conferring to the individual a condition, which in fact he or she does not have the ability to achieve.

This fetish is clearly expressed in the words of Assadourian (INSTITUTO AKATU, 2010, p. 3):

    To prevent the collapse of human civilization nothing less is necessary than a generalized transformation of the dominant cultural standards. This transformation would reject consumerism the cultural orientation that leads people to find meaning, satisfaction and recognition through that which we consume which would then be considered as a taboo, and would create in its place a new cultural framework focused on sustainability. In the process would rise a reformulated understanding of the meaning of "natural": it would mean individual and social choices that cause minimum ecological damage, or better still, which would return the health of the Earth's ecological systems.

The proposals for changes in the current standards, through so-called "conscious consumption," relate to the individual sphere of the issue, hiding the fact that the means of production, and therefore, the conditions for appropriation of nature, are concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie which defines "what, how much and how" to produce "with what" energy and how the production will be transported. We call attention, in this case, to the lack of questioning of the bases of discardability and or the production of "useless objects," causes that are intrinsically related to capitalist expansion, to the need to realize value and reduce the time of rotation of capital.

The illusions of eco-capitalism thus crumble. They derive from its very essence: the attempt to make private accumulation compatible with the preservation of nature has affirmed its character as true ideology, while demonstrating its inability to confront environmental destruction and consumerism as one of its more evident expressions.



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1 Anonymous text. Available at: < >. Accessed on: July 17, 2011.

2 According to Mészáros (2004, p. 65), "ideology is not an illusion or a religious supersition of poorly guided individuals, but a specific form of social awareness, which is materially anchored and sustained in the society of classes."

3 The State of the World Report is an annnual publication of the Worldwatch Institute (WWI), which has been published for 28 consecutive years in nearly 30 languages and is published in Portuguese in Brazil since 1999 by the Universidade Livre da Mata Atlântica (UMA), the representative of WWI in Brazil. It was published in Brazil, in 2010, through a partnership between the Instituto Akatu and UMA.

4 The environmental question is understood as the various manifestations of the destruction of nature whose roots are found in the development of bourgeiois property relations and their sociopolitical consequences, for which the action of environmentalist movements had key importance (SILVA, 2010, p. 82-83).

5 The UN conducted a study from 2001 to 2005 involving 1,350 scientists from 95 countries about the health of global ecosystems and their relationship with the maintenance of human life. The report called Living Beyond Our Means points to a rapid decline in the capacity of global ecosystems and warns of possibilities for future collapse in the planet's capacity to supply the natural resources needed to satisfy the needs of future generations. It is estimated that if consumption and production standards are maintained at current levels, in less than 50 years two planet Earths will be needed to meet the needs for water, energy and food. Available at: < >. Accessed on: Oct. 15, 2011.

6 A clear example of this trend was an ad presented in 2011 by a bank that said it was elected (without indicating by whom) the most sustainable in the world.

7 Anonymous text. Available at: <>. Accessed on: July 30, 2011.

8 Preapred from 1997 to 2002, implemented in 2003. Available at: <>. Accessed on: Oct. 2, 2011.

9 Declaração de Princípios da Indústria para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável [Declaration of the Principles of Industry for Sustainable Development] (CNI, 2002).

10 "In reality, when stripped of its narrow bourgeious form, what is wealth if not the totality of the needs, capacities, pleasures, potential, producers, etc., of individuals, acquired in universal exchange? What is it if not the complete development of the human command over natural forces both over their own as well as so-called nature? What is it if not the expression of their creative potential? [...] What is it if not a creation in which man does not reproduce himself in a determined, limited manner, but produces his own totality disengaging from the past and integrating to the absolute movement of becoming?" (MARX, 1977, p. 80).

11 Translated from Spanish to Portuguese by the author.

12 The author emphasizes that this mainly occurs in places or regions in which mass transportation is ineffective. This logic evidently has a price: the saturation of public thoroughfares and the increased polution of large cities are in this sense emblematic.

13 Available at: <>. Accessed on: Oct. 3, 2011.

14 "The ethical reflection supposes the suspension of everydayness; its objective is not to respond to immediate needs, but to systematize a criticism of daily life, a presumption for its organization beyond the needs aimed exclusively at the 'self', expanding the possibilites for individuals to realize themselves as free and conscious indivdiuals" (BARROCO, 2001, p. 55, emphasis by the author).

15 Culture here is understood in the Gramscian sense, as a part of the processes of construction of hegemony and refers to the ways of living, thinking and acting of a given society, of social classes and segments of classes.



Received Oct. 15, 2011.
Approved Dec. 15, 2011.



Maria das Graças e Silva
PhD in Social Work from Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE)
Adjunct Professor in the Departament of Social Work at UFPE

Nailsa Maria Souza Araújo
PhD in Social Work from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
Adjunct Professor in the Departament of Social Work at the Universidade Federal de Sergipe (UFS)

Josiane Soares Santos
PhD in Social Work from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
Adjunct Professor in the Departament of Social Work at the Universidade Federal de Sergipe (UFS)

Centro de Ciências Sociais Aplicadas
[Center for Applied Social Sciences]
Av. dos Economistas, s/n
Cidade Universitária
Recife Pernambuco
CEP: 50670-901

Centro de Ciências Sociais Aplicadas
[Center for Applied Social Sciences]
Cidade Universitária Prof. José Aloísio de Campos
Av. Marechal Rondon, s/n
Jardim Rosa Elze
São Cristóvão Sergipe
CEP: 49100-000

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