Sustainability — The New Consumer Trend

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Sustainability — The New Consumer Trend

Nayla Delgado, Staff Writer

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In recent years, there has been a major upsurge in consumer concern for ethics and sustainability. Influencers and celebrities such as Emma Watson and even former first lady Michelle Obama have promoted the green fashion movement, but it doesn’t end at fashion.

As the ethical controversies of many large companies are brought to public attention, consumers have begun to be more conscious of every product they invest in, or “voting with their dollars” in order to promote causes they believe in. With an abundance of information at our fingertips in the era of technology, customers find it easier to ensure that the products they invest in and companies they support align with their own personal values and morals. From changing diets to boycotting plastic or fast fashion, many all around the world have joined the growing movement.

Shoppers have developed their relationship with sustainability and conscious consumption in many ways, as the process depends on the individual’s moral beliefs. This trend can be attributed to an influx in concern for a variety of causes by younger age groups. Studies have shown that recent generations tend to support brands associated with causes they support. Millennials currently make up a large amount of the workforce and the predicted percentage in the workforce by 2025 is 75 percent. This gives millennials significant power when it comes to consumption. 87 percent of millennials have reported that they would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues, contributing to the influence of this consumer trend. In 2010, a study examined global executives and 68 percent of respondents reported an increased commitment to sustainability which was a dramatic increase from the year prior, where only 29 percent of respondents reported their commitment.

Companies have taken notice of these trends and have begun to hold sustainability and political concerns in high regard in order to avoid being blacklisted by conscious shoppers. It is evident that sustainability and conscious consumption is playing a large role in the economy today but, as previously mentioned, it’s an individual process and different customers will have different values.

Many consumers are forced to make difficult choices and draw lines as to what they will and will not stand for. For example, a dilemma many often face is the choice to invest in real leather or faux leather. While real leather is made from animal hides, faux leather is often made with fossil fuels and take a long time to break down. There are no easy answers and it is up to the individual buyer to make such choices.

Some consider the ethical consumption and sustainability trends to be superficial or a form of “slacktivism”, where one supports a political cause through simple measures rather than truly devoting time to make a change. Through the age of social media, slacktivism is rampant and, to some extent, sustainability and conscious consumerism contribute to this. The ability to “vote with your dollar” is a mere contributing factor to the economy and the system of capitalism is bigger than the individual. Ethical consumption under capitalism is an imperfect process, as it’s difficult to truly be an entirely ethical and sustainable consumer. This contributes to the conception that conscious consumerism and sustainability is effective in making any significant difference. In a 2012 study, the ecological footprint of sustainable was compared to the footprints of regular customers, showing no meaningful differences. Plastic water bottles have been a major concern of the sustainable movement, and despite this, bottled water consumption has continued to rise.

An alternative argument is that these movements are elitist, and, to some extent, they are. It is difficult for the common customer to not only find the time to research each product they buy, but also reject many more affordable options. It’s an effortful process, and many do not have the money or time to participate.

Ethical consumption a multi-faceted dilemma, and there are benefits to sustainability and buyer consciousness, but it is also important to recognize that the plastic straw in your drink is not the main problem. You can “vote with your dollars” by donating to organizations making real efforts to attack environmental problems, such as the pollution of the oceans, or to politicians who are working towards clean air policies. While it is important to educate ourselves on what we are consuming, it is also necessary that we take measures that make greater impacts on the issues we are trying to combat and recognize the true sources of these issues. The sustainability and ethical consumption movements are a great starting point into combating environmental problems, but it is up to consumers and people of the world to take the movement further and make long-lasting changes.