Field Notes: Opinion – Why Green Isn’t Enough

Now, perhaps more than ever, creating a market for environmentally sustainable products is an urgent need. The consumerism that has ingrained itself in our culture is a facet of day to day life that we cannot easily shed. In the fight against climate change we cannot simply expect the momentum behind consumerism to come to a halt. To rely on such a drastic lifestyle change for such a large number of people is anything but realistic – as is the expectation that people will buy a product simply because it is “green”.

“With millions of designs on the market, there has got to be a good reason to squeeze in another one. Eco-design is a very good reason, not only because of socioeconomic realities but also because of a change in value systems that has started with the younger generations. They know there is only one planet, though few would pay anything extra to save it.” – Jan Dranger

As the effects of environmental degradation become more apparent each day, it also becomes clear that humans on earth cannot continue with business as usual. Simultaneously, it is crucial to not that the force behind consumption creates the destruction that it does because of the direction it is pointed.

At its most basic level, individual human impact on earth can be broken down into decisions made to meet needs – but everything has a carbon footprint. A person may buy energy intensive meat, because they are satisfying a need to eat. People buy and burn pollution-creating gasoline, because they need to get places. On a large scale, this is also the fault of the industry that the provides these services.

People will almost invariable choose options based on price and convenience. While people have free will, and supply and demand is a major factor, ultimately, it is industry that provides people these options.

If there’s a shampoo that I love, but it only comes in plastic bottles, then I am unlikely to ditch in favor of making my own. Likewise, if I find a shampoo of competitive quality that comes in a glass bottle that costs twice as much, I will likely be unable to afford it and stick with the plastic.

It is conceivable then, that if there were alternatives that were competitive in price, while additionally being cruelty free, sustainable, organic – that the force of consumerism could be redirected down a less destructive path – or even one that improves the planet we live upon.

Ultimately, most people in the countries with the highest environmental impacts don’t manufacture their own goods – they obtain them at a store. Choices concerning the manufacture of these produces are made long before their product they purchase reaches their hands.

Of course, as previously mentioned, the consumer does have choices when it comes to the products that they buy and the companies they support, but beyond making goods at home, which very few have the time to do, there is very little say the consumer has in exactly how and where these products come from.

Some consumers can demand more environmentally friendly products to show companies that this is an issue of importance to them – but ultimately, most people will not – especially if it costs more money, or is harder to obtain.

The average person will ultimately choose the path of least resistance, and the time for change is now. Environmentally friendly products must be made to compete with their environmentally destructive counterparts – from lip balm, to laundry detergent and furniture.

The people with the largest capacity to affect change, then are the ones who design these products. At every step of the supply chain, they are making some of the most important ethical decisions concerning our environment today. If their design choices are unsuccessful from a sustainability perspective, they leave the consumer without sustainable choices.

It is not enough to just make a product environmentally friendly – it must be as good, if not better, than it’s competition just the same. The average person will not pay a cent more to do the right thing. And so, these are the people that ultimately determine what products people will buy – and how that affects the planet.

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