Companies need more pressure to be sustainable, not consumers

By Emma Weidmann | Staff Writer

Today, there is a wave of activism surrounding the environment and climate change. Undeniably, this is a good thing. However, I find that in many cases, the ire and criticism from such activists tend to be misdirected at consumers, rather than at the companies that produce unsustainable products with unethical labor practices and questionable processes.

A lot of fashion influencers pride themselves on buying half their wardrobe from the thrift store and the other half from expensive sites like Reformation, where a single dress might easily run more than $200. Reformation and similar companies like to flaunt themselves as the pinnacle of sustainable fashion — gorgeous clothes at little cost, at least to the environment.

But, the average consumer can’t justify paying that much for a dress even once, let alone shopping there every time they need new clothes. So, the problem of sustainability isn’t that people are apathetic and want to kill the Earth; it’s that it is fundamentally inaccessible.

Brands like this, and the influencers who wear them as a badge of pride, are the smack of elitism. By creating an influencer culture around a certain style of clothing, a trend is set. People whose bank accounts don’t reflect those of a well-established YouTuber or Instagram model will resort to buying their clothing from fast-fashion sites such as Shein, which are known for the lack of transparency around their supply chain and unabashedly promoting excess and materialism. All of this is not to shame those who buy from these sorts of brands, but rather to point out why consumers often go for cheap clothing for the sake of following trends.

Meanwhile, large corporations get away with “greenwashing” their products — a form of false advertising in which they portray their products as better for the environment or “greener” than they really are. Packaging like this tends to fall into the vein of hipster-y, trendy design and because of this, are often more expensive. Companies are all too excited to cash in on green activism while changing absolutely nothing about their practices. When activists shame people who shop unethically, these companies are let off the hook.

On NBC’s “The Good Place,” it is revealed in a later season that nobody has gotten into the Good Place (essentially Heaven) in over 500 years. Why? Because our actions are no longer as simple as they used to be. A character explains that 500 years ago, a man picked a rose from a bush for his mother because it was her birthday. He gave it to her, and it made her happy. His “points” went up, getting him closer to the number of points he needed to go to the Good Place. Likewise, a man went to the store recently to buy his mother roses because it was her birthday. He gave it to her, and it made her happy. But, he lost points because purchasing those flowers supported a company that exploited migrant workers to harvest the product, irresponsibly used tons of gallons of water, dumped pesticides into the ground and so on.

The point of this is that consumers are no longer able to control the consequences of their purchases — at least, not to any extent that matters. Companies will continue to take advantage of the silly notion that any one person has an impact on the environment as they continue to pollute the air and the water. The best way to sidestep this impossible situation is to simply consume less and blame the companies that do the most damage. Refusing to buy into the hype over any company or trend will do way less damage in the long run than buying sustainable, expensive brands. Your wallet may just thank you for it.