Is Sustainability Only for the Privileged?
There are many myths that surround a sustainable lifestyle, it is something that many of us in the eco-fashion industry try and fight daily. An issue that comes up quite frequently is privilege.
Now, ‘privilege’ is a word that can make us all a bit uncomfortable... Usually a conversation we try to avoid for fear of saying the wrong thing but in this case I think it’s definitely an issue that needs to be more widely spoken about.
I have worked in the industry now for nearly four years, admittedly before then I wasn’t the waste-conscious and mindful consumer I am now. I would probably argue I was pretty ignorant of the impact my actions were doing to the planet. I’d say I’m pretty accepting of other peoples’ ignorance, although maybe if there’s opportunity I’ll add my two cents on how we could all be doing a little better to minimize our effects on the environment.
The argument that I’m most often confronted with is money, which I get. I’ve done enough research to know that if you start looking for sustainable fashion options online and you’ll come across jeans for £200+ and wardrobe basics for double the price you’d normally spend if you’re a savvy high street shopper. This is nothing new, price has always been an issue within the industry. When the movement first came about, shopping sustainably was a hobby for the elite and organic food was a luxury item.
Nowadays the climate for sustainability has changed, more and more people are looking for eco alternatives with products being much more accessible to consumers. There are several bloggers trying to make a sustainable lifestyle more accessible by collating all their favourite ‘budget-friendly’ brands – I love this! It’s a great way to find new brands and when customers ask for advice – these are my go-to tools and links to send out.
Issues occur however because budgets are individual. What might be budget-friendly for an influencer could be out of reach for a cash-strapped parent or money conscious student. Here lies privilege, and we don’t even realise it.
Defining privilege is complex. A lot of us associate it with money, relating it to some kind of societal hierarchy but in this case, I don’t think we should ignore ‘opportunity’. The ability to visit a local ‘plastic-free’ or low-waste store is a privilege. Having the time to research and find ethical alternatives is a privilege. Even having the time to explore second-hand shop and charity shops – it’s all privilege.
Opportunity gives us the option to make better choices, something which not everyone is able to do.
We can’t deny privilege exists, and I’m not going to sit here and write otherwise. But that isn’t to say sustainability isn’t inclusive.
Scrolling on Instagram the other day I read a reposted quote from an aspiration young eco blogger which read:
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly”
And I think that it’s true for living more sustainably. And I think chalking your lack of change up to privilege is an excuse. I might not live close to a zero-waste store, but it doesn’t mean I can focus on other areas of my life.
For those who can, we should be using this privilege for good. With this kind of access to resources people can make more ethical choices and switch to a more sustainable lifestyle. With privilege comes responsibility.
Sustainability isn’t just shopping for ethical fashion; it’s mending your clothes or shopping second-hand.
Sustainability isn’t just buying only organic and fair-trade food; it’s eating those leftovers.
Sustainability isn’t just driving round in electric cars; it’s choosing to walk or take the bus.
Sustainability is re-wearing an outfit.
Sustainability is buying better and investing in quality.
Sustainability is working towards a better future.
We can all do better, privileged or not. I think the first step is for us to stop alienating people from making these changes, celebrate the good people are doing and learn how to communicate. Preaching isn’t the answer, education is. Don’t call out people on what they aren’t doing, applaud them for what they are doing.
Ok, so she’s drinking water from a plastic bottle but this morning she decided to walk into work rather than jumping in the car. We are all doing our bit.
Realistically can we ever be fully sustainable? Is zero waste really possible? Who knows.
All I know is that humans aren’t perfect. Sometimes we’ll pick the easy option – sometimes it’s the only option! Elitism will also be an issue in the kind of society we live in, but that doesn’t stop us practicing sustainability and self-sufficiency.
Above image is figure 1: Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash