New environment campaign targets the iCon: buying what we don’t need
- New poll finds only a quarter of people willing to have fewer possessions to help protect the environment.
- Apple’s iPhone launch targeted in radical campaign to tackle overconsumption.
Charity Population Matters today launched a new campaign challenging overconsumption in high-income countries. The We Don’t Buy It campaign rejects the conventional wisdom that more consumer activity and economic growth is good for us, calls on individuals to moderate their consumption and challenges the social, economic and marketing pressures that encourage us to consume.
The campaign is accompanied by the results of a new Yonder opinion poll which found that only 27% agreed with the statement “I’d be willing to have fewer material possessions to help protect the environment”.
In better news, only 6% of respondents said they didn’t care about the environment and just 12% said they didn’t think they should change their behaviour until governments or companies took more action to protect the environment. Expressing willingness to change their behaviour, 47% said they would be willing to replace products less often to protect the environment. 
The campaign is being launched on 16 September, the day of the release for sale of the new iPhone14. Apple stores will be opening early in London and across the world to cater for customers who just can’t wait another two hours to buy.
PM director Robin Maynard says:
“The relentless cycle of making, marketing and then disposing of ever more stuff, much of it barely used, is destroying our planet, our home. For our own good and for future generations we must change our habits: becoming less gullible consumers, more smart, active citizens, challenging and resisting the siren-calls of short-termist, vested interests putting their profits before the good of people and planet.”
The campaign highlights that humanity is currently using up 1.8 times the renewable resources of the planet , with people living in high-income countries like the UK overwhelmingly responsible for this overconsumption. If everyone consumed at the same rate as the average person in the UK, we would need 2.64 Earths to supply our needs . Meanwhile, almost half of all climate emissions are produced by the top 10% of people worldwide, which is roughly equivalent to those earning above the average income level in the UK. 
The United Nations Environment Programme calculates that two-thirds of climate change emissions derive from household consumption . In 2022, IPCC stated that population growth and per capita growth in Gross Domestic Product are the two strongest drivers of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels .
The campaign’s initial focus on Apple is based on its marketing model of regular upgrades which encourage people to buy new products when existing ones already serve their needs, sometimes known as “perceived obsolescence” . While recognising that Apple is taking a number of positive measures to reduce its environmental impact, the campaign identifies negative environmental effects associated with smartphone production including the impact of extraction and processing of elements such as copper and aluminium; the carbon emissions associated with design, manufacture, distribution and disposal of the products (including recycling) and any resulting e-waste. 
In 2020, Apple was estimated to be producing about 500,000 iPhones each day: 350 per minute . It no longer publishes its marketing budget but in 2015, spent $1.8bn on advertising .
Robin Maynard continues:
“It’s absolutely right to challenge the destructive activities of traditional environmental campaign targets like fossil fuel companies, but we’ve also got to go deeper than that. Apple, and the other tech companies want us to buy more stuff we don’t need, and that is what we’ve got to change. That’s the ‘iCon’ we’re talking about: being persuaded to spend our money when what we have is more than good enough.
“This is about far more than climate emissions: it’s about natural ecosystems, water, land, natural resources, and energy. All the ESG reports in the world won’t change the fact that the more we produce, buy and consume, the more destruction we cause. Whether it’s smartphones, cars, flights or anything else, we’ve got to start asking not can we afford it, but can the planet afford it.
“This is also about injustice. We know that not everyone living in a rich country is rich, and many of us are suffering the effects of inflation just now. But the more that those of us who are affluent take for ourselves, the less there is for people who need and have the right to move out of poverty. We’re called Population Matters because the number of us matters and always will. The good news is that collectively we can end population growth through making easy choices: empower women, ensure people can freely use family planning, tackle poverty. We must solve overconsumption by making better but tougher choices, that are every bit as essential.”
The iCon campaign (strapline “Upgrade our home, not your phone”) is calling on Apple not to release a new iPhone until at least 2025, to ensure that operating systems continue to work for all older models and to do more to promote reuse and recycling. It calls on consumers to upgrade their phones less often and encourages them to buy second-hand and recycle. Population Matters will also contact other mobile phone manufacturers with similar demands.
Contact: Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications
T: 0208 123 9170 (24hrs)
For full results of the poll, contact Alistair Currie
NOTES FOR EDITORS
 Yonder Data Solutions surveyed a representative sample of 2,090 adults living in the UK. The sample was weighted to be nationally representative of the UK. Fieldwork took place between 12th and 13th September 2022. Poll question: Thinking about the possible impact on the environment of new products generally, which of these statements do you most agree with:
- I’d be willing to have fewer material possessions to protect the environment
- I’d be willing replace products less often to protect the environment
- I don’t think I should change my behaviour until governments and companies take more action to protect the environment
- I’m not concerned about the environment
- Don’t know
 Global Footprint Network, Earth Overshoot Day. How Many Earths Do We Need? How Many Countries? https://www.overshootday.org/how-many-earths-or-countries-do-we-need/
 As above
 Oxfam, Confronting Carbon Inequality, (2020) https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621052/mb-confronting-carbon-inequality-210920-en.pdf According to this research, people in the top 10% of income worldwide were responsible for 52% of emissions between 1992 and 2015. The analysis used inflation-adjusted income bands based on 2015 levels. In 2015, the top 10% was anyone earning more than US$38,000 per year. Average UK wage in 2015 was US$42,000 per year. For a full analysis of the Oxfam study, including how it demonstrates that population is an important factor in climate emissions, see Population Matters blog https://populationmatters.org/news/2022/02/fat-cats-and-fossil-fuel-companies-whos-blame-climate-change
 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2022) AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6wg3/pdf/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_ FinalDraft_FullReport.pdf
 UNEP Emissions gap report 2021 https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2021
 Hiveblog (2022) https://hive.blog/hive-123046/@emiliomoron/what-is-perceived-obsolescence-and-why-is-it-not-sustainable ; Inspire to Fire (2022) https://www.inspiretofire.com/perceived-obsolescence/
 Storymaps (2020), The cycle of an iPhone https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/791c02e17f1443e7a1ec48633c135c67; Compare and Recycle (2020) Are iPhones bad for the environment? https://www.compareandrecycle.co.uk/blog/are-iphones-bad-for-the-environment; Apple Environmental progress report 2022 https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Progress_Report_2022.pdf
 KnowYourMobile.com (2020) How many iPhones does Apple make a day? https://www.knowyourmobile.com/news/how-many-iphones-does-apple-make-a-day/
 iPhoneinCanada (2016) https://www.iphoneincanada.ca/news/how-much-apple-spends-on-advertising/
Population Matters is a UK-based charity working globally to achieve a sustainable future for people and planet. Our mission is to drive positive, large-scale action through fostering choices that help achieve a sustainable human population and regenerate our environment.
The Chandlery, 50 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7QY, UK
UK charity number: 1114109