Why we need to think bigger and do better when it comes to our global sustainability efforts
There is no doubt this world is going through an environmental crisis. In fact, it is quite common for me to think of an issue such as this and melt into a pool of hopelessness (without fail.) Daily reports, research and Netflix documentaries often only add to this deep angst and feelings of helplessness. I’m not alone though – 60% of young people feel worried or very worried about climate change according to a recent global survey.
Things are so easily available to us that we consume very thoughtlessly and without need at a scary rate. Many items are typically cheaper to replace than repair, plus the capitalist system many countries operate in seems to be at odds with sustainability efforts. Perhaps you could say us being in this position was an inevitable state of affairs…
It’s not my fault! (Is it?)
Interestingly. when we look at our efforts to be sustainable and how they relate to what we’re told by the media and governments, there is a lot of emphasis on what individuals can be doing and should be doing to save the planet. You need to recycle more, make sure you’re using less bathwater or here’s how you can sew your clothes to avoid throwing them away. I’ve been fed such messaging since I was in primary school where we would celebrate awareness days which taught us such things.
Don’t get me wrong – there really is no harm in doing all these things but whilst we make sure we sort our rubbish correctly into recycling and waste, turn our TVs off to avoid wasting energy and use energy-saving lightbulbs, it feels likes many corporations who are doing 5x as much havoc to the planet every day are let off the hook. I say this after recently watching Panorama’s documentary on Coca Cola and the truth behind its greenwashing messaging.
Well, of course, we could debate for eternity why this is the case but the trail always goes back to the money. Money, money, money. The climate blame game is very much skewed towards the public because it’s likely easier to fine individuals to deter them from littering in comparison to trying to stop corporations from dumping toxins into rivers. I say difficult, but not impossible. However, many governments are aware that if they tighten laws and seek to harshly punish global corporations based in their country, those companies will simply move and set up shop somewhere else – it’s why we call them ‘footloose’. However, it’s a sad reality and frankly, a frustrating one which means corporation interests are placed before that of citizens of the country – literally the opposite of democracy (if that’s a word that can be taken seriously anymore.)
Sustainability – the rich man’s game?
Why does it always seem like you have to make a choice between affordability and sustainability?
I remember having lunch with a colleague of mine and asking this exact question. This question is one I continue to ponder on often. I saw an ad the other day about a brand that sells a vegan alternative to eggs which still tastes exactly like eggs (according to the ad anyway.) When I finally came across it on the supermarket shelves it was £4. Four whole pounds. This didn’t make much sense to me considering you could easily buy a pack of 15-24 eggs for half the price. But I am aware that although a lot of these indie eco-alternative brands are definitely onto something with the products they produce, they don’t necessarily have the scale or exposure yet to sell at cheaper, more affordable prices.
This creates a problem for lower-income families who naturally live a very budget-conscious lifestyle out of necessity. If I was a working-class single mother of three children, would I even consider buying this vegan egg alternative? Probably not. The same goes for a zillion expensive organic alternatives I find in local shops no doubt seeking to serve the gentrified hipsters in my area. There’s no point in me pondering the purchase of such things I can’t afford. Yet, if we’re truly determined to create lasting change environmentally, we cannot have a two-tiered game where only the rich can afford to participate. Lasting change requires universal cooperation which means all consumers should be able to purchase products, make lifestyle changes and decisions that are affordable/easily accessible.
By no means do I belong to a think tank or the UN so I’m not filled with solutions here.
However, some things I would say I would like to see more of:
- We need more recycling infrastructure – at the moment much of our recycling gets shipped off to Southern East countries such as China where it could get recycled once sorted/processed or may – more often than not – just go to their landfill. It’s an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality to the disposal of waste that has to change. More recycling needs to take place domestically and infrastructure is needed to make this happen.
- Companies need to make it clearer to consumers if they offer safe ways to dispose or recycle their products; whether it’s a laptop, washing machine or TV – they will keep going to landfill if consumers don’t know such a service exists. One of the best ways to do this could be through a ‘buy back’ scheme, like Currys PC World currently offers – where you recycle your old product through them and get money off to buy a new product.
- Similarly, companies need to start offering spare parts which can help consumers fix their products and thus make them last longer. The number of times I’ve had a perfectly working item but cannot fix it myself and therefore have to buy a whole new product instead have been too numerous to count.
I could go on and on but I’ll stop here for today.
Some suggested further reading:
The Eco Experts have created a list (with a company breakdown) of the top nine global corporate polluters which you can read here.
This WIRED article takes a more optimistic approach to the environmental issue and argues we need to be more hopeful about the future.
What do you think about this issue – unbothered or very concerned? Let me know your thoughts. 😊