Is Sustainability A Privilege?

By Shannon Mora

According to the New York Times, the majority of Americans believe climate change is a serious crisis and 75% of the population agree that carbon emissions should be regulated to some extent. Technology has come a long way in decreasing carbon output levels and providing sustainable options for our everyday commodities. We now have access to hemp clothing, biodegradable food containers, solar-powered batteries, and bamboo toothbrushes. With this level of consensus, ample education, and better technology, why are sustainable products still considered to be a luxury alternative instead of the norm?

Higher Prices for Environmentally Friendly Goods

Socio-economic class plays a large role in who is able to participate in climate action as these sustainable alternatives are often pricier than standard and mass-produced products. High prices are a result of better practices. For example, proper certifications (ie. organic) are costly, fair wages for manufacturers and artisans are higher, naturally sourced materials require time and innovation, and smaller volumes of purchases cost more to ship over time. However, most people do not consider these critical factors when deciding which products are right for them and their families. After the function of the product, the price tag is generally the next critical factor for purchase decision making. Understandably, individuals first and foremost compare their needs and desires to their available budget.

Sustainable products will never be able to compete with cheaper, synthetic, and environmentally harmful options because they are outperformed in popularity. If the popularity of these products could be amplified, the consumer interest will grow and drive down the costs of production. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. Unfortunately, the media plays a large role in the disconnect between these two mechanisms and arguably explains this currently low demand.

Minority Groups Left Out

The media often shapes what the public deems popular or trendy. Suddenly, you may notice that your social accounts are flooded with promotions of the hottest new skincare products, trending online clothing stores, the latest diet craze, and everyone you know hops onto the bandwagon. These products usually gain their popularity through celebrity endorsements and intentional marketing. People pay attention to who is already using the product when they consider if it is a good choice for them to adopt as well. This is to say that demographic representation matters when it comes to grabbing an audience’s attention.

Melanin and Sustainable Style is “an evolutionary platform that discusses the issues and celebrates the success of communities of color in Sustainable Fashion and Beauty spaces.” In the article linked, the author highlights the necessity for the presence of people of color in the outdoor space. This includes hiking, rowing, camping, etc. It also includes the leading retailers that provide products and services for these activities. The Instagram blogger “@takingupspaceoutdoors” shares her insights into the lack of marketing towards people of color (POC), pointing out that large outdoor brand names rarely include POC in advertisements. There is a significant disconnect between minority audiences and the outdoor industry, which is preventing specific groups from relating to environmental issues and the dangers of not preserving our wildlife as well as natural resources.

Consider if you very rarely or never saw examples of people that looked like you engaging in wildlife spaces or conservation activities. Under this case, it may never occur to you that you are in fact impacted by a degrading environment and should participate in a movement to mitigate these risks. Likewise, consciously selecting sustainable products over conventional options may never enter your list of priorities.

Top-Down, Then Back Up

Any corporation that truly aims to impact the conservation space needs to make sure they are targeting all audiences. Everyone is impacted by climate change and therefore, everyone needs access to participate in climate action. Increased opportunities for participation will inevitably encourage greater consumer engagement and in turn allow the smaller sustainable businesses to drive down costs. The loop will continue. Lower costs will allow even more groups to participate, which will drive encourage other corporations to hop on the bandwagon. Eventually, sustainable products will then be the norm.

Sustainability shouldn’t be a privilege, and it should be a right that we all deserve access too.