The over-indulgent spending of the holiday silly season could be forgiven if it were a one-off – a short celebratory rewarding of a life otherwise constrained by the dictates of sustainability.

But we merely slip back into the normalised conspicuous consumption of modern existence, despite knowing our habits are rapidly leading us to the end of a no exit road.

Reduce, reuse, recycle? Give me a break!

Try holding a garage sale and you'll see what I mean. People turn away from new or near-new secondhand goods because they'd rather go out and buy the same thing brand new themselves, as daft as that sounds. For the warranty. Yeah, right.


At best because the item has lots of alleged "green" credentials, and they want to help support progressive companies.

This is the mindset on which so-called "woke capitalism" preys.

Woke is a political term of African-American origin that refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social and racial justice.

You might say someone is "woke up" if they see the Te Mata track issue as racially-based; and urge them to "stay woke" to ensure it's resolved with that in mind.

But in a corporate context, it's best summed up by US psychologist and author Dr Clay Routledge: "We are living in an era of woke capitalism in which companies pretend to care about social justice to sell products to people who pretend to hate capitalism."

The hook is: as much as we fear corporations gone wild, we love corporations that love us. And people may prefer their brands to prove this love by identifying with favoured social causes rather than the old-fashioned expedient of paying their workers more money.

It has become a very powerful marketing ploy.

A prime local example is the "clean waterways" campaign being run by Dairy NZ, where "we all agree" swimmable rivers are a birthright and everyone should be doing their best to clean things up and keep NZ beautiful.


Inherently, this includes dairy farmers, but there's no hint that dairying has been the major cause of the degradation of our rivers and lakes. Just the implication that, since we all agree clean is good, now you can drink your milk with a clear conscience.

Big oil companies have been promoting alternative energy sources like wind-power and biofuels for years, to pretend they're green, while continuing to focus core business on oil and gas extraction.

This virtue-signalling that implies a certain degree of "performative wokeness" is also offered in the hope industries will not be taxed or regulated too heavily.

As good consumers, we're open to being manipulated in this way, since it allows us to excuse ourselves for buying things regardless of their social or environmental impact.

Fortunately there are now companies going the other way: making products designed for long life rather than short-term obsolescence, and which are genuinely reusable. Though they still rely on capital to exist, they may not encourage "sales" as such.

Riversimple, a Welsh startup making a hydrogen-fuelled car, the Rasa, is one. You can't buy a Rasa – you can only rent one, so apart from its numerous green credentials the company is driven to make the vehicle as long-lasting as practicable.

In New Zealand there's For the Better Good, making drink bottles out of a plant-based "plastic". Again apart from being fully compostable the company also refills them from its own water stations, reusing each bottle as much as it can.

So the challenge for consumers is to look beyond the clever social marketing and make conscious choices to support such "alternative" capitalism; to be fully awake, and not just woke.

- Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. Views expressed are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.