01/04/2012 12:04 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2012

Reducing Consumption in 2012 -- An Inconvenient but Necessary Resolution

NEW YORK, NY -- I was seriously into re-gifting for Christmas this year. Just ask my kids.

My daughters, Anna and Sarah, and nieces Rachel and Leah, each received a notebook of favorite family recipes, decorated with old photos and watercolors from vacations past. Rachel loved the never-been-used colander that was taking up precious closet space. As for stuffing the stockings -- which I threatened to cut off altogether now that the youngest is graduating from college -- it became an exercise in finding a good home for various office supplies and surplus personal goods that were gathering dust. Anna, the diplomat, said the yellow highlighter was just what her boyfriend needed.

A few days after Christmas, Sarah and I made up for my Scrooge-like sins by renting a car and driving out of the city for our annual blow-out at the mall, where we had to fight for a parking space.

The question on my mind as I consider the year ahead, is whether it is un-American to commit to spending less and buying only what I really need. At this phase in my life, it's not exactly a hardship to buy fewer things. Yes, some new clothes are needed from time to time, but the book shelves are already filled with books I haven't yet read, and but for replacing some worn out towels, I am not exactly in a "need to have" phase of life.

Our economy however, seems built on a set of habits that would suggest that if we all commit to the same resolution of buying less, the layoffs will only get worse.

Welcome to the quandary of sustainable consumption. And yes, indeed we do have a problem -- albeit, as Al Gore would say -- an inconvenient one.

Americans out-consume their neighbors around the world at levels that translate into unsustainable -- let's call it outrageous -- over-consumption of energy and other natural resources. The statistic usually offered up is that with only 6% of the world population, Americans consume 25% of the natural resources. It's time to get a grip.

My parents, products of the Depression, valued buying many fewer, but higher quality goods. That would be a step in the right direction that could be good for the economy as well.

There are many sources for such high-quality products. One of them is sportswear manufacturer and retailer Patagonia, whose legendary founder, Yvon Chouinard, is so committed to the idea of sustainable consumption that the company is partnering with Ebay to encourage reuse of Patagonia products. Hard to believe, but true.

Patagonia sales people seem to have taken the pledge as well. "Dave" from customer service, who chatted with me on-line as I hunted for a pair of yoga pants, wasn't aware of the partnership I was trying to research, but he agreed with it:

Welcome to Backcountry. You are now chatting with Dave..
judith: I heard that Patagonia had started a program that prompts you to consider if your purchase is a "need" or a "want" and to consider buying a used version of your targeted purchase on Ebay. is this true? j
Dave: hello there, I hadn't heard that, but makes sense to me
judith: Well, if YOU haven't heard about it, I assume its not true! I was thinking about writing an article on it.
Dave: yah I'd contact Patagonia to be sure, but sounds like an interesting basis for an article. what's your angle?
judith: Time for new year's resolutions -- and I have taken your Patagonia Common Threads pledge about reduce, reuse... etc. but I would like to put in something about the extra commitment by the company to make you think harder at Point of Purchase.
Dave: hmm wish I knew more specifics, I know myself I try not to buy any of our products unless I need them. Mindless consumerism is a plague.

Wow -- I will remember this moment. A customer service rep chatting with a potential customer about "mindless consumerism?"

I predict we will see many more retailers dig deeply into the balancing act of selling retail with the planet in mind. It means more investment in design of product for more efficient use and reuse of resources, on-site recycling, and, for the courageous ones, it will also mean pricing that embeds the true cost of the product, and testing some messages that challenge their customers to think about what they are doing at point of purchase.

Happy New Year, we can all do our part. Take the pledge here.