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The middle classes will change the world

Posted on 03 October 2014.

Beware of the buying frenzy! With five million families by 2030, the middle classes will cause a boom in consumption... but what about the environmental consequences?

The buying frenzy among the middle classes is quite positive - globally, the standard of living is increasing – except for the downside of its impact on the environment!

Currently there are more than one billion. By 2020, the number will have almost tripled. These middle-class households are families with incomes approaching $ 35,000 (around EUR 26,000). Asia is on the frontline and will soon form two-thirds of these new households. Roll of the drums... China will occupy the top spot with 80 million comfortable households. Next will be Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Turkey and India... People in these emerging nations are new consumers and are ready to launch an assault on the shopping malls. The fact is, the more you earn, the more you spend. Economists maintain that once an annual income of 10,000 euros has been reached, demand for consumer goods explodes – including such things as washing machines and computers, known as "sustainable" because they are used for several years. After food, shelter or clothing, increased home comforts come in the form of equipment, from toasters to motorbikes. A rather positive buying frenzy as from America to Asia standards of living will rise on every continent – except for the downside of its impact on the environment. When you consume more, so do your possessions! From ultra-flat screens to brand new vehicles, these items are greedy in terms of water, oil and electricity and so put even more pressure on natural resources. In the end, the planet carries the can as sales of refrigerators, televisions and mobile phones soar.

Purchasing power... 56 trillion!

Although at the moment it is difficult to predict the exact environmental consequences of the arrival of these new consumers on the market, estimates of their purchasing power speak volumes about the potential magnitude of the effect. Estimated at 21 trillion in 2009, it could well reach 56 trillion by 2030. In the end, the middle classes in emerging countries will exceed those in the USA, which in the collective imagination are the champions of consumption with their XXL automobiles and oversized burgers. In the future, the Chinese and their purchases are likely to leave the Americans standing. In 2030, the Middle Kingdom will have the world's largest middle class - and shoppers galore! 40% of Chinese admit that their favorite pastime is window shopping, a hobby they indulge in diligently - in 2007, they spent an average 9.8 hours a week shopping... as against 3.6 hours for the average American. Although it may not yet be time to start humming “Let's go to the mall” in Mandarin, if we are not careful, the tune could cost the planet dear... unless the economic model changes! A circular economy with products designed to be deconstructed rather than destroyed, could, by no longer depleting resources, both satisfy demand and protect the environment. So nothing is lost, provided you are in the loop!