Are we really consuming sustainably?
Since Covid 19 pandemic has started, we have faced unprecedented challenges and we have been learning lessons from them. One of the biggest shifts is that a growing number of consumers are prioritizing their purchasing decisions not on the price anymore but sustainability. As consumers are wanting corporations to take more responsibility for their impact on the planet, a lot of companies are promoting their products as “sustainably made” as a marketing strategy. But is it true that people, like normal consumers, are consuming more sustainably and ethically? What does “sustainably made” even mean? In this essay, I will discuss the importance of sustainable consumption and tips to consume more sustainably.
Nowadays, the word “sustainability” is everywhere, and the fashion industry is not an exception. From Mckinsey’s new age of the consumer us survey 2019, Younger generations increasingly state that they will pay more for products that have the least negative impact on the environment (Mckinsey&Company 2020).
Figure 1. % OF US CONSUMERS IN 2019 WHO WOULD PAY MORE
Are consumers Eco-wakening? To get an answer, I decided to ask people near me. So, I interviewed some of the students from TAMK(6 students) and asked them if their purchasing decision has changed more ethically and sustainably, especially after the pandemic. Surprisingly, most of them said that they were trying to buy second-hand clothing rather than buying new products. But other than that, they said they are generally not conscious of what they buy. Moreover, some of them said they have never thought of sustainable consumption. From this interview, I found out that a lot of people think of “sustainable consumption” as buying second-hand clothing. Since the fashion industry is making significant negative impacts on the environment, it is critical that consumers become more open-minded to secondhand clothing and recycling them, but we need to be conscious of what we generally consume.
There were some confusion and struggles for them to choose sustainable products. With so many products touting environmental benefits, it is important to separate facts from hype and to understand a product or a brand’s true impact (10 tips for more sustainable shopping). You can often see green labels which are “sustainably and responsibly made products” on the package or from the package or advertisement, but most consumers are confused to make the right decision. According to some tips for more sustainable shopping that was suggested by Patagonia, many brands become transparent about the process of how and where their products are made by sharing images of the factories. But a picture is just a picture. The photos don’t guarantee healthy working conditions or fair wages. We need to start visiting companies’ websites that we use to get information and data on how they are improving corporate social responsibilities. If we cannot find such information, we need to ask for it (Patagonia ). The more we use our voice, the more changes can be made.
What does “sustainably made” mean? If a brand is making a claim that they are responsible for environmental and social impact, we need to know whether they are certifiable or not. Certifications are a great tool to verify their claims. Try to be conscious of whether there are certification seals on products or information in its online store. A fair-trade certification is one of them, which is a strategy to create equity in the international trading system for poverty alleviation and sustainable development (Fair Trade Federation). For example, Patagonia pays a premium for every Patagonia item that carries the Fair Trade Certified™ sewn label, and the extra money goes directly to the workers at the factory, they decide how to spend it. It has impacted positively more than 64,000 workers, promoting workers’ health and safety. Below is the list of certifications that we worth knowing.
- NSF Global Traceable Down Standard
Organic Content Standard
Regenerative Organic Certified™
Fair Trade Certified™
Fair Labor Association
Sustainable Apparel Coalition
Forest Stewardship Council
Responsible Wool Standard
Sustainable consumption is not only buying sustainable products but most importantly not consuming unnecessary stuff. According to a 2019 McKinsey report, apparel purchases have increased by 60 percent over the past 15 years, whereas their lifespan of them has decreased significantly (10 tips for more sustainable shopping). The world is full of stuff, and we also have so much stuff. But why do we keep buying new things even though we already have them? Do I want to buy it because of the Instagram advertisement or is it because we want to seek acceptance from peers? We need to pause and ask ourselves if we really need this. Asking these questions to myself will be able to help stop impulsive buying.
We are all consumers prior to entrepreneurs. In the post-pandemic world, sustainable entrepreneurship is a must. And it starts with our consumption. We need to take a long-term view rather than focusing on fast revenue or growth. It is a myth that each and every one of us doesn’t have the ability to change the world dramatically and quickly. Everyone can do their part to make it happen because there is power in every decision we make (United Nations, 2020).
- Mckinsey&Company 2020. The state of Fashion. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/retail/our%20insights/the%20state%20of%20fashion%202020%20navigating%20uncertainty/the-state-of-fashion-2020-final.pdf
- Patagonia n.d.10 tips for more sustainable shopping, https://www.patagonia.com/consumer-guide/responsible-shopping.html
- Fair Trade Federation n.d. What is fair trade, https://www.fairtradefederation.org/what-is-fair-trade/
- United Nations, 2020, Nations United: Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVWHuJOmaEk