I see the use of guilt appeal in sustainability marketing against overconsumption as more of a negative activity. There are several reasons for that, but in this post I will refer only to one – the feel of guilt evoked by consumption can be a source of much unhappiness as a result of going against human’s evolution.
The line between tackling overconsumption and consumption is very thin, almost invisible, therefore when we, for example, say that someone must feel guilty because of buying more clothes than he or she needs, then most probably he or she will feel guilt after every purchase, except if it is not his or her first winter jacket ever after moving to Finland or the previous jacket has reached the condition it is not possible to wear or fix it at all. Of course, you can argue that it differs from person to person, and some people’s wants have deeply rooted as needs; or that we should appeal to guilt only when he or she buys a harmful product. But all these arguments are ambigious, due to the reason we cannot clearly separate these messages. It is impossible to define a universal level of what person can buy without feeling a guilt and what he or she cannot.
Further more, it is quite possible that consumption or, lets say, a wish to own more things than we need has deeply rooted in human’s nature during it’s evolution as a social mammal and it might be very hard or even impossible to eradicate it without causing any psychologic trauma. I cannot imagine any other explanation for the reason for our addiction to consumption than it is a part of our nature. Otherwise how you explain the fact that almost all societies in the world has voluntarily followed the model of consumerism society. As an example, one of the main reasons of dissatisfaction with soviet system among ordinary citizens, which in the end lead to collapse, was lack of choice and products to buy. At this point you can argue back by comparing consumption with alcohol addiction, but each morning when I have a hangover I promise myself that I will never drink again not because of feeling guilt, but because of feeling harm to own’s health. That is why it is much more thoughtful to appeal to harm to person’s health rather that guilt.
In conclusion, I would like to bring a short passage from Peter Singer’s essay “Outsiders”, where he brings an example of kibbutzim to justify parental partial attachment to their children and negative consequences of forbidding it, as a result of human’s evolution:
“In the early days of Israeli kibbutzim, or socialist collectives, the more radical kibbutzim sought to equalize the upbringing of children by having all children born to members of kibbutz brought up communally, in a special children’s house. For parents to show particular love and affection for their own child was frowned upon. Nevertheless, mothers used to sneak into the communal nursery at to kiss and hold their sleeping children, presumably, if they shared the ideals of kibbutz, feeling guilt for doing so. Such guilt will itself be a source of much unhappiness”.
Don’t feel guilt, enjoy your life!