Sunday 19 April 2009

Earth Day and Mall Madness


     Yesterday’s blog challenge was to visit a mall.  Huh?  Well I hate shopping so I took a couple of hours out of the Smithsonian to visit Earth Day on the National Mall instead.  I still didn’t get any good ideas for a blog post though, so I’m going to cheat and refer to Peter Ubel’s reflections on mall-life, described in his book, ‘Free Market Madness’:

“Is there any place where freedom is more apparent than a super market?  Walking the aisles of your local grocery store, you can freely choose from among dozens of shampoos, scores of cereals, and hundreds and frozen delicacies.

But are you as free as you think?  In some supermarkets today, an anthropologist is wandering the aisles watching how you shop, observing whether your eyes roam the shelves from bottom to top, and measuring how long you linger in front of display cases if you have toddlers in row.  Meanwhile, over at the kitchen store, the proprietors have just placed an expensive new cooker onto the shelves, a deluxe model with a control panel that would put a 1990s VCR to shame.  At nearly double the price of their next-best model, almost no consumers are willing to buy this new product.  But that doesn’t matter to the kitchen store, because the next-best model (which used to be its high-end, slow-selling brand) now races off the shelf, appearing to be a veritable bargain in comparison with this new product.”


Ubel goes on to draw from behavioural economics to show that people's’ search for ‘utility’ (basically, the ) is driven largely by illogical decision making.  His main example is the  number of people who eat too much and eat the wrong food, reducing the length and quality of their lives, even though they believe they are making a rational choice each time they reach for their next burger.

But (not) protecting our planet is a very good example of failed utility too.  Returning to the earth-day theme, each one of us needs to consider our decision making and how these decisions add to, or subtract from, a broader view of utility, which includes preservation of our world.  This applies to HR too - see my post on Green HR.



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