Do not eat meat. Be a vegan. Recycle. Avoid single-use plastic. Stop fast fashion. The list goes on. As consumers, the concept of living green is marketed to us constantly. Seasoned with a heavy dose of subtle and sometimes not so subtle guilt-tripping. This narrative comes from brands, companies or organisations who claim they are doing their part for the environment and that now it is up to the consumer to do the rest.
Let’s face it can be overwhelming. Lately, many organisations have placed heavier weight and blame for environmental issues on consumers. It is a slick way for them to avoid responsibility and have the masses running around “buying” their way into sustainability. As consumers we must learn to identify this eco-guilt, to correctly research sustainability claims made by companies and to shift our imposed shame into action that holds the major actors of climate change accountable. Let's unpack this.
Consumer blaming and eco-guilt
There is a distinctive point in history when fossil fuel companies decided to shift the blame and responsibility of plastic waste onto consumers. It all starts with the half-truths about recycling. Their ruse is simple: tell people we can recycle all types of plastic so they can continue to make plastic. This is not to say recycling does not work - it does - but it’s not as straightforward as we’re told it is. Although all plastic can be turned into new things, sorting and melting are extremely expensive and just a small amount of plastic is recyclable. The core of the plastic issue is not that we are not recycling enough, it is the sheer rate of overproduction.
This narrative of placing the blame on consumers is a normalised practice across many industries today. In fashion, it’s spun this way: companies can keep producing at the same rate and it's up to the consumer to shop better. Let’s also not forget the argument of demand and supply: it’s easy to assume that companies produce this much because consumers are asking for it, right? Well, in recent years, that has become a bit of a myth. Companies tend to overproduce, way above what consumers are demanding. In the US for example, back in 2018, the fashion industry produced 150 billion garments (an average of 20 items per person that year) and 30% of those garments never sold.
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View the full article over on Wolf & Badger. Further features from Amma Aburam on her website/blog Style & Sustain.