Economic downturn & Environmental concerns of consumers

The twin currents of an economic downturn and rising concern about the environment are merging in a shift in consumer psychology. After a decade of conspicuous consumption, many middle- and upper-income Americans are no longer comfortable showing off $300 Gucci sunglasses and $8,000 Hermes Birkin bags. They are developing a distaste for extravagance that promises to affect spending on everything from cars and travel to electronics, fashion and household goods -- and to last at least as long as the recession.

And that behavior (to be sure, a luxurious problem in a bad economy with high unemployment) dovetails neatly with environmentalism, another way people like to feel better. Over the past year, some affluent Americans have simply "given up the fight to keep up with the Joneses," says Pamela Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a research firm in Stevens, Pa., while others have decided that "spending money on luxury is a poor use of resources in a climate of high gas prices and rising carbon footprint."

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