The problem of trendy sustainability

January 24, 2014 9:30 am

Sustainability means living without having an impact on the surrounding environment. It means acting with zero cost for the planet. The notion of sustainability gradually inspired me to try it out for myself, to try and have as little damaging impact on the environment around me, whilst maintaining my standard of living. Little by little, I became aware of potentialities which I had overlooked before; I thought about the food I ate, the clothes I bought, even the mobile phone I used, and realised that all of this could have a negative environmental impact.

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One thing I have learnt having conducted this personal experiment is that it is not easy thinking sustainably in this world. Granted, it’s getting there; over the Christmas break I was happily surprised by the number of “sustainably sourced” products available for sale, from Fairtrade, organic Starbucks coffee to conflict free mobiles. Yet, there is still a hypocritical element to some of these claims.

I went to Wahaca on the weekend and read through the leaflet that they provided. They went on about feeding responsibly-sourced swill to pigs for conservation purposes, which I agreed whole-heartedly with. Yet, as I ate there, they served our food on paper menus which they scribbled on whilst taking our orders and then threw away at the end of service. I do not see consistency here; and this is the restaurant which was voted the most sustainable chain in 2012 and 2013.

The difficulty of living completely sustainably seems to me to be the reason behind the two, polar-opposite environmental stereotypes. On one side, busy people with hectic lives who run around and forget all about it, waving off climate change and eco-system damage as hyperbolical jargon from bored hippies. On the other side, the bored hippies, who stage ostentatious protests about global warming, shout loud and proud…and then go home and forget all about it.

Both frustrate me. I had a conservation recently with someone advocating changing people’s environmental impact through staging numerous protests about ‘global warming’ generally. They then proceeded to tell me about their new iPhone. This was telling – they talked about changing the world, but had bought a phone which has cobalt and copper unethically sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They probably did not even know that the elements which constitute their investment had ruined an eco-system through irresponsible mining. After that, I did not even want to ask how they intended on implementing “change”. Why aren’t these environmental advocates protesting against concrete issues, like conflict mining, like harmful chemicals in beauty products which run into rivers and seas? Why don’t they promote nature, encourage city rooftop gardens, entice people to join the campaign, instead of scaring them off?

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Luckily, there are many people looking more deeply at the issues that confront us, finding productive answers which could change the consumer market for the better. The groups campaigning against irresponsibly sourced minerals, against blood diamonds, against chemicals in products. The groups who support more green spaces in our cities, who wish to improve public transport and augment cycle lanes. These are the people who I take my inspiration from. They understand that sustainability is becoming a brand without a meaning at present; the airy-fairy, trendy calls for “reducing carbon footprints” are an example of this. Yet, the first challenge to thinking sustainably is understanding that it is not easy. It requires a complete mindset modification, a mindset which is aware about the intricacies of the problems to be resolved. Only then will trendy sustainability become effective.

 

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