I was talking the other day to a woman who buys for a posh shop about the dilemma of how to discourage people from wanton and irresponsible consumerism, whilst still extracting large sums of money from them, in exchange for stuff.

She pointed eagerly to a display of butterflies cut out of old maps, in a shiny glass and steel display case. ‘Look, those maps would have gone to waste otherwise!’ she trilled.

So you take about one square metre of old map, cut it up, house it in a brand new, specially made display case, charge hundreds of pounds for it – and call it recycling.

This reminds me a lot of the I’m Not a Plastic Bag bag. You’re not a plastic bag, you’re just a bit of an idiot. There’s a word for this. It’s ‘eco-iconic . Eco-iconic is when you buy something, not for what it does, but because it says you’re a person who cares.

Eco-iconic says ‘I can’t actually bear to give up shopping, because it’s how I define myself, but I’d like you to think I’m a nice person, too.’ Apparently, even buying green-coloured things makes people feel better about themselves 

There’s no such thing as eco-shopping or ethical shopping. There’s just – not shopping. The catalogues and web sites urging you to buy ‘ethical’ things are still part of the problem – they’re in it to make money like everybody else. (I’m never going to get rich with this attitude).

But not shopping, or not defining ourselves by what we buy, is the most fundamental change we have to make, before anything else can change. While our personal identities are all about our stuff, we are – pardon the expression – doomed 

So. Let’s begin. If you can’t bear to give up shopping, trot down to a charity shop .When you’re feeling strong enough to bypass the High Street altogether, you can go online and equip yourself with trainers made from old suits, or messenger bags re-fashioned from  bicycle inner tubes and tents left at Glastonbury 

(Leaving tents all over the place isn’t wildly environmental, either, but all the young things seem to do it, so they might as well have a happy afterlife. Plus, if it starts to rain, you can just crawl into it)

However, as things made of other things seem mysteriously to cost twice as much as things made from scratch, you might want to head to    which has over 4,000 communities and 3.5m users in this country. (You know how much fun you have on eBay, right? So imagine eBay, but free!) Then you could try swapxchange.org Start by swapping a toaster for a bottle of wine, end up swapping your house – the possibilities are endless.

Both of these solutions, however, ignore a key elements of shopping, which is recreation, or – ahem – fun. How much fun can you have stuffing an electric kettle in a jiffy-bag? Clothes swap parties,  swishing go some way to solve this problem. (Clothes have carbon footprints too, you know. Oh yes.) You can extend the swapping to every element of the party – background CDs, drink and food.

Who knows, even your own children might seem more attractive after you’ve swapped them with somebody else’s for a week or two.

You might think, if shopping is religion for most of us, what’s needed is a Church of Stop Shopping It’s a great idea: attack big chains and defend little local guys. But it ends up telling you, in detail, what not to buy and where not to buy it – and spreads this message via videos, books and CDs. Which are for sale in some of the places it wants you to boycott.

As Brendan Behan said: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The company behind   had the same experience; they found they could sell ‘ethical’ stuff (and their magazine), very successfully. What they never found a way to do was get people just not to buy stuff. Okay, there’s Buy Nothing Day But where’s the evidence people don’t buy twice as much the day after? It’s still the language of advertising.

The saddest bit is so bedded into the culture it’s almost hidden. Viral marketers happily admit to using ‘teens’ increasingly bleak and atrophied family relationships’ to get to them via emotion, not reason. We’re over brands these days, and into ‘lovemarks’. Teenagers, more than the rest of us, define themselves by what they buy. And what they buy is largely determined by what their peers buy 

In 2001, P and G in the USA created ‘Tremor’ – viral marketing by teens to teens. Here’s the pitch: ‘We… empower our panels of Connectors with discussion triggers to create consumer-to-consumer relationship marketing that delivers measurable results on a national scale. The Word of Mouth Marketing message is spread in face to face discussions with friends and family.’

You think you’re just chatting to your mates, or your kids, but actually they’re selling to you. Because they’re lonely. And any connexion is better than none.

Since then, 250,000 children have signed up to receive products and talk them up to their peers. The strategy works so well, it’s spawned a whole happy family of viruses: VocalPoint for mothers, and the Girl’s Intelligence Agency, spread at teenage girls’ slumber parties (they don’t call it ‘viral’ for nothing).

Then there’s BzzAgent which has 400,000 covert operatives on the streets – probably including yours. When it was ‘exposed’ in the press, the main effect was thousands more agents signing up.

So even what seems to be, and used to be, the joyous intimacy of teenage relationships – the first forays beyond family and schoolroom – turns out to be all about shopping – or, as it prefers to be called, murketing – too.

Just don’t do it. Now, there’s a slogan we can all buy into.