Lifeworth Review of 2007 GOTO Lifeworth Review 2007: The Global Step Change
Jem Bendell
Adjunct Associate Professor,

Griffith Business School, Australia

Founder, Lifeworth, Switzerland
Jonathan Cohen Jonathan Cohen
Research Associate,
Lifeworth Consulting, Switzerland

Being consumed

Against this backdrop of environmental concern, the topic of sustainable consumption has been aired more often at corporate social responsibility conferences. A twist on the familiar subject occurred in June at Canada's largest oil conference. A representative of the US National Petroleum Council told several hundred oilmen that in order to address worldwide energy needs an abundant new source was needed, and announced the launch of Vivoleum-a fuel made by 'transforming the billions of people who die into oil': all a hoax devised by the Yes Men.52


Andy Bichelbaum of the Yes Men, a political prankster group, posed as the representative, and was thrown out along with a companion after handing out Vivoleum memorial candles purportedly made from the remains of an ExxonMobil worker who had died following the clean-up of a toxic waste spill. The janitor, in a video tribute, announced that he wished to be transformed into candles after his death. The candles were actually said to be made of paraffin, beeswax and human hair.53

53 Mataliandy, 'Vivoleum, solves global warming and peak oil', Daily Kos, 14 June 2007;, the spoof website, quickly got yanked off the internet the next day, along with the Yes Men's email service, in reaction to a complaint whose source their internet service provider declined to provide. The provider also made the Yes Men remove all mention of Exxon, who was ostensibly the manufacturer of Vivoleum, from, before email service was restored.54


The hoax about the sustainable consumption of consumers conjured up shades of the cult 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green, which revealed in the dénouement that the main ingredient of the essential food source in society was, in fact, people.55

55 See the trailer at

The Yes Men were making a number of points. One is how we are ourselves consumed by the economy we have created. In his 2007 book Consumed,56 Benjamin Barber develops the theme. He suggests our global economy is designed to overproduce goods and necessitates the corporate targeting of children to make them demand more products and services. Barber asserts that in place of the Protestant ethic once associated with capitalism-encouraging self-restraint, preparation for the future, protection of children and community, which he sees as characteristics of adulthood-we are constantly being seduced into an 'infantilist' ethic of consumption. The system we have created, he says, has as its primary goal not the manufacture of goods we need, but the needs themselves. For the sustainable consumption agenda to be embraced by business people and the larger public, there is a need to understand how product and service design, marketing and advertising can be done in ways that communicate to people about consumption opportunities without their being consumed by debt from overspending, environmental destruction from overdevelopment, and personal dissatisfaction from perpetual want.

56 Benjamin R. Barber, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (New York: W.W. Norton, 2007).

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