Is there too much focus on individual habits?
It’s probably fair to say that many people feel overwhelmed by the sudden attention that the climate crisis is receiving in the media.
Climate breakdown, rapid sea rise and anthropocene events - it's a lot, when all you want to do is look good in stylish, sustainable clothes! This is made worse by many of the main culprits for climate change, like fossil fuel companies and the governments of developed nations, trying to pass the buck onto individual consumers, rather than taking responsibility themselves.
Time for big players to stop playing PR
It has long been known that this trend for blaming the individual was a PR trick created by oil companies themselves. BP invented the term “carbon footprint”, because people leave footprints behind, whereas oil companies trample everything in their path. The idea was to sell the myth that an individual has as much impact on the environment as a global conglomerate.
This act of bad-faith misdirection continues to cloud peoples’ idea of what it is to lead a sustainable life, while also handily shifting their anger from the very people and companies they should be irate with for the state of our planet.
With this in mind, we’ve put together some alternative habits that individuals have adopted, which have a negative impact on the planet.
1. Making exceptions for fast fashion basics
How often have you explained to a friend that you buy sustainable jackets, eco-friendly knits or organic trousers, but that for basics, such as underwear and socks, you turn to fast fashion brands? Is your answer “yes”?
This habit comes from the misconception that it’s okay to buy low quality basic clothing, because it will only need to be replaced in a few weeks or months anyway. This is often the message pushed by fast fashion outlets, especially when people are experiencing pressures on their finances.
However, there’s no reason why buying longer lasting, sustainable basics should not have the same effect as buying any other type of sustainable clothing. High-quality fabrics and local handmade production processes mean basics, like our eco socks and eco underwear, will always be better value for money in the long run, no matter how tempting fast fashion prices may be in the short term.
2. Shopping at supermarkets
There was a time when people bought all their food and drink at a market, or from multiple grocery stores on their highstreet. Produce tended to be local and seasonal, and unbeknownst to all involved, that way of shopping was incredibly eco-friendly. Then some bright spark decided that markets should go “super” and everything went downhill.
Our addiction to the convenience of supermarkets is stark. In France there is some form of supermarket per every 204 people. The number is even crazier in the UK, where there’s one for every 111!
The problem with supermarkets is that their business processes have some of the most damaging environmental impacts found in any industry. One element of this is sourcing produce that comes from all over the world, so we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, no matter the environmental cost.
If this wasn’t bad enough, there's then the sheer amount of single-use plastic packaging that’s generated by supermarkets. In 2019 alone, the top 10 supermarkets in the UK put 896,853 tonnes of plastic packaging on the market.
Much of that waste plastic ends up in landfill or the sea. No matter how many sustainable garments we make from recycled ocean plastic, it would be impossible to capture and repurpose such a colossal amount of plastic.
3. Accepting the status quo
Of all the points in this article, this is perhaps the most important, because it is only because society as a whole has accepted that climate breakdown is inevitable – rather than something we can help make better – that has led us to the tipping point we find ourselves at today.
At the end of the day, individuals do have the power to exact changes they want to see in the world, but only when they come together and realise their true power, as part of an organised group that challenges the status quo.
4. Using ride-share services instead of public transport
Chances are you will have used some form of ride-sharing service. In our home city of Barcelona, where we design all our sustainable clothes, there are a huge number of companies offering everything from electric motorbikes to scooters to taxi rides.
At first sight these seem like a good proposition for the planet, with hybrid or electric vehicles emitting little to no emissions and creating less noise pollution to boot. However, there are studies which suggest that such services can be counterproductive when it comes to the environment, convincing people to shun public transport (the most eco-friendly form of transport) thus compelling some local governments to reduce their public transport services.
All this means that the more city dwellers use public transport, the better it is for the planet, not to mention that many ride sharing firms display questionable ethics when it comes to their treatment of workers.
Our sustainable outfits, which are ethically made in Portugal, always look their best when stepping on and off a tram, underground train or bus.
5. Pursuing endless growth and the blame game
Much of the frustration people feel in connection to the climate crisis is that, on the one hand, they are being told their way of life is harming the planet, only then at work to be told that to be successful they must continue to achieve maximum growth.
This in turn leads to some thinking that they can buy their way out of the climate crisis, by filling their wardrobe with sustainable knits, sweaters, trousers and eco-friendly t-shirts. While such a green consumer’s shopping habits will be far less harmful to the planet than those of a fast fashion disciple, the act of buying products will always take some toll on the planet.
It is for this reason that some academic discussion has begun to centre around ideas such as “degrowth”. Books which explore ideas of economic degrowth being a possible alternative to the current status quo include, The Future is Degrowth and Post Growth, although there are many counter hypotheses as well.
Lastly, there is a temptation to make like the fossil fuel companies mentioned above: to pass the buck for climate change. This takes place both at an individual level and a national level. Where the latter is involved, there is much made in western media of the growing environmental footprints of developing nations such as India and China.
Once more, though, this tends to be an exercise in distracting western societies from their historical responsibilities, especially when you factor in that per person, developed nations have historically emitted infinitely more CO2 into the atmosphere than the populations of less developed nations.
All this goes to show that while individual habits do have an effect on humanity’s climate footprint, it is only when people start thinking about their collective habits and attitudes that meaningful change will take place.