Source: Unsplash

In an Alternatives Journal (AJ) summer 1978 article by Julia Gardener and John Marsh entitled “Recreation in Consumer and Conserver Society”, they discussed the meaning of recreation from both consumer and conserver society perspectives. Forty-two years since the publication of this article, society still has tendencies to either consume or conserve the environment for their pleasure while minimum efforts have been made to shift consumer recreation to have more sustainable approaches and allow conservation recreation to be the dominant form.

The article refers to a 1940 definition of recreation which states that recreation means different things to different people. On one hand, recreation can mean a form of amusement, pleasure or diversion (e.g. movies, theatre). Whereas, on the other, it can be a form of mental and physical refreshment. Recreation from a consumer society perspective involved the passing of leisure time through the use of activities which may sometimes involve technology to help separate one’s play from work. From a conserver society perspective, it involves gaining maximum benefit with minimum consumption and waste and is more accessible to the population with little to no financial costs unlike the activities attached to a consumer society.

Cruise ships are a form of consumer society recreation

Source: Unsplash

Consumer society aims to consume the most resources within short time periods. The higher the demand for these forms of recreation the greater the increase in production despite the environmental-related impacts. Consumer recreation is widely promoted through advertisements and involves activities like circuses, cruises, boating, skiing which are all still relevant in today’s society and demand has increased compared to in the past. Circuses treat animals inhumanely to train them to perform tricks for a few minutes of entertainment for humans. Cruises sometimes discharge fuel and sewage into the ocean and its operation can triple a passenger’s carbon footprint. One way to reduce the impacts in the future is to find alternatives to these activities or incorporate eco-friendly solutions without greenwashing. Similarly, educating people on the negative environmental and ethical impacts can also help reduce consumer demand for these activities. Continuing these activities as normal would not help with the issues our ancestors have caused and passed the baton on to this generation where problems such as species endangerment and climate change are being left for us to deal with. What would the environment be like for future generations if we do not act now to make positive changes?

Biking infrastructure in nature is a form of conserver society recreation

Source: Unsplash

Conserver society aims for more preservation with minimal extraction. While over the years there were great strides in this form of recreation as organizations budgeted for the implementation of infrastructure to promote leisure activities, it is not equally available globally and more should be done to achieve this. Biking infrastructure, bike racks, nature trails, natural heritage parks and greenspaces have been developed and situated in areas that allow nature to be more easily accessible to the public. If more acitivities are promoted that benefit the environment while simultaneously enriching one’s mental and physical well-being then an equilibrium for achieving pleasure while protecting the environment can be achieved.

In the past, recreation in a consumer society placed emphasis on the temporary satisfaction of the public without much concern for the impact on the air, water and land. Whereas, conserver society considered the rights of other species but as the authors of AJ’s 1978 article quoted the Science Council of Canada, “Our concept of nature must change from seeing it as a shopping basket of unrelated goods that we can consume at will, to a set of living ecosystems apart from which we may take only that part that does not threaten the continued viability of the whole”. This statement is still applicable today and if the latter part is followed will help avoid environmental deterioration.

At present and for the future, in order for recreation in consumer society to be made sustainable, more environmentally-friendly practices need to be incorporated or there should be greater promotion for society to participate in different forms of conserver society recreation. Similarly, more laws, regulations and policies should be put in place for recreational activities that harm the environment. The goal should be to leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures to ensure a sustainable future in the area of recreation.


Shanella Ramkissoon is a Masters in Environment and Sustainability candidate. Her background is in the field of Environmental Science and Environment and Resource Management. Her interests lie in environmental conservation, especially for marine species such as coral reefs, turtles and dolphins. In her free time, she enjoys landscape photography, baking and art and craft projects.

If you liked this article, please subscribe or donate today to support our work.

A\J moderates comments to maintain a respectful and thoughtful discussion.
Comments may be considered for publication in the magazine.
  • Giving of yourself – and giving someone your open-mind to listen and to be edified – is one of the greatest gifts a… 1 day 6 hours ago
  • Can tourism really be sustainable? 🌴Definitions of sustainable tourism are often conflated with eco-tourism, leadin… 2 days 22 hours ago
  • RT : Happy to be interviewed about virtual healthcare for the latest issue of . That said, I look forward… 3 days 8 hours ago